February 12, 2013

Tomes: Miscellanea #3

Back with a few more nuggets from the “golden age” and beyond.

Art in America Cover, Winter 1965/1966
The cover story for this holiday edition is “Children’s Toys by Artists”. The specimen pictured was hand-crafted by none other than the late, great Milton Glaser, in a pre-post-modern display of his playful pop-art chops.

Advertisement for Larry Bell Solo Show, 1966
One of my favorite Finish Fetishists gets his name in lights alongside some big league players (Nevelson & Vaserely, dang) at the tender age of 25! Great use of negative space and you’ve got to love that “futurist funk” typeface. Ahead of the game.

French Language Guide to the Moscow Olympics 1980
Ok, so the design’s a little cluttered, but those two typefaces are straight-up UNTOUCHABLE. That heavily shadowed sans is bursting with questionable cold-war enthusiasm, while the thin-lined bold on the bottom is a beautifully bizarre attempt to transport Mexico 66 to the Eastern Bloc. We all know Olympic graphics are a never-ending font of mid-century design inspiration, but the unpolished optimism on display here is truly refreshing.

Truck Drivers Dictionary
Though there’s no date to be found inside, the playful line drawings and pseudo-Swiss-grid layout probably peg this to the mid-60s. The bold, oh-so-midcentury palette is achieved through 2-color printing on marigold stock. If there’s a better 3-color combo than green, orange, and yellow, I can’t think of one.

Death Under A Sail
Ah, Penguin. Where would I have been as a young, design illterate scamp, without the playful severity of your paperback covers? High modernism at its best. Now that the web has gone “flat”, it might be time to start paying attention again. #Relevant.

Better Type
Ok, two things. First of all, this is a great cover. Nothing here but a big ‘ol paragraph that’s the title, layout and pull-quote all rolled into one. Secondly, this is a seriously fascinating book. Over 100 pages of minute variations on a theme, namely the setting of type into paragraphs for legibility and style. Characters per pica, ragging technique, and “text color” (the general texture of a text block based on character contrast and negative space) are all covered in detail. A rigorous lesson-book and invaluable encyclopedia of obsessive typesetting technique. Copies on Amazon regularly sell for under $5. Step your game up.

February 5, 2013

Rev You: Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – The Plant With Many Faces

If you consider yourself a fan of “noise music” from the last 10 years, there’s an extremely good chance you’ve heard of Dominick Fernow. Aside from his most high-profile project Prurient, and his association with minimal-wave darlings Cold Cave, Dom’s been involved in at least dozens, if not hundreds, of shadowy projects over the years in the harsh/dark realm.

Releasing most of his material on his own imprint, Hospital Productions, Fernow’s recorded output over the last five years has been a more or less unending stream of mysterious cassettes and CDRs. His Li’l B-level prolificacy often breaks the album/month barrier, and the offerings are served up STRICTLY LIMITED.

What makes Fernow’s output more compelling than the average morass of lo-fi junk that circulates the underground is his master manipulation of persona. The man is an arch conceptualist, founding dozens of anonymous “groups” whose names and song titles move away from simple identifiers to the level of obtuse poetry. As such, each “project” is a dive into a speculative genre of noise yet undeveloped, its motivations and politics unclear.

One persona, the spare, drum-machine driven, counter-terrorism obsessed Vatican Shadow (named in honor of the Pope’s secret service) has recently broken through the underground. With a new crossover fan-base of dark techno fanatics worldwide, it reached major blog-hype status with a string of vinyl releases in 2012. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just for fun, here’s a few choice examples from Fernow’s back catalog, alongside speculative “themes”(my own guesses, of course)

Exploring Jezebel – “Attending UCLA Lecture on Forced Feminisation in Prison” Cassette
(Female domination)

Force Publique Congo – “Population Loss in the Rubber-Rich Equatorial Colonies” 2xCassette Box
(Banana republic colonialism)

Infrastructure Zero – “Cessna children” Cassette
(Military-industrial contracting, sample track: “Scaffolding Rusting in Stormwater”)

Sierra Leone Anger – “Executive Outcomes” 2xCassette
(The trial of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor, including a track titled “His Crew Tried to Kill Him With a Cancer Ray Camera” Hyper-specific!)

Christian Cosmos – “Cadence Upon The Threshold Of Judgement” Cassette
(Theology, natch. Sample track title: “God Has Entered So Fully into the Human Experience That Everything Has Changed”)

Mitochondrial DNA – “Strawberry Sugar Zeros” Cassette
(Your guess is as good as mine on this one)

Whereas most “concept” albums are imbued with self-important rhetoric, Dom keeps everything hazily incindiary. The verbatim, found-text poetry of the project and release names, and the obtuse yet loaded titles and art congeal into a totally compelling package, embodying the same kind of hazy, mysterious magic that empowered VHS box art of yore. All the while, there’s a silent army of fanboy salivators plunking down three figures on Discogs and Ebay for a shot at a complete collection. The dude’s invented fresh new ways to play off dark fascination in order to move units, and you have to applaude him for it.

So what does it all sound like? Who knows. For every cassette that gets ripped and shared, or is given the Boomkat treatment, a dozen more slip through the cracks of the Internet. Much like the onslaught of Z-grade VHS that flooded the market at the beginning of the VCR age, the fun is in not knowing quite what lies inside.

All this brings us to Fernow’s latest outing in localized occult role-playing, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. The four 10+ minute tracks on “The Plant with Many Faces” are a humid, low-fi traipse through dark tropics, their titles evoking jungle shamans and black magic animism. The album kicks off with a phasing synth pulse, and just as you ready yourself to get sucked into some neon-lit carpenter-soundscape, the whole thing is enveloped by a torrent of low-fi scuzz, with the sparsest of rhythmic clank. Only occasional tape-loop shrieks and wails pierce the shroud.

From there, we are treated to a patient suite of subdued, fuzzy atmospheres, in turn menacing and morose, pensive and threatening. With only the faintest hints of rhythmic/melodic content, and James Ferraro levels of audio infidelity, the album works best as a mood piece, echoing the tape-saturated bed music of Robert Turman or Graveyards at their most mellow. An unpolished but intriguing listen, executed with an admirable restraint that ultimately dulls its effects.

It’s also worth noting that as of right now, this is a widely available download-only release, indicating the turning of a new leaf (all puns intended) for the sub-underground project. Comparisons to gauzy darkness sculptors like Demdike Stare and Andy Stott are entirely valid, and in the wake of those groups’ massive hype in 2012, Hospital is taking the product to the people.

When you’ve worked your way through their catalog of 30 Muslimgauze albums, give Dom’s latest a listen on Spotify.

January 26, 2013

Tomes: Miscellanea #2

Back with a few new bits of printed detritus. The accidental theme this week seems to be “Modern Anxiety”.

Art and Industry
A simple white-on-blue photogram, with a cut-up type treatment in the Futurist tradition. The narrow slab serif is a nice touch. Just serious enough.

The Wired Nation
Some bold, post-modern vibes. Despite being a straight-up informative affair, I can’t help but read some They Live “Stay Asleep” commentary into the gaudy, patriot-bating graphics.

Suicide and Mass Suicide
Beautifully stark type treatment, rendered in a curious but attractive high-contrast serif. Nothing but the text, and a great use of negative space as a stand in for oblivion. Bleak!

January 22, 2013

Rev You: Madteo – Noi No LP

I’m a little late to the party, but I can’t pull myself away from this late-2012 chunk of playful darkness from NYC art-house outsider Madteo.

The 11 experiments that compose the LP are in turn heavy, compelling, goofy, seductive, difficult, and cracked. Released into the world by Finnish label Sahko, champions of such out-sound missionaries as Ø (aka Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio), and Globule favorites NSI, it’s the perfect type of non-standard outing to make you question your musical motives.

The backbone of this enigmatic release is its use of fragmented samples. Half-spoken statements, half-hearted melodic lines, and all manner of dark, gauzy pads trip, stutter, and shuffle throughout every track. On even the most linear cuts, unstable filter-house moves tether the mercurial vocalizations, which echo as if from the bottom of a sewer.

The track “Rugrats Don’t Techno for an Answer” comes closest to the mainstream, threaded through with de-contextualized samples of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room”. The “rugrats” in question chirp ignorantly over Madteo’s own more atmospheric, subtly organic morass. Though it might sound insufferably snarky, the result is more AFX than Kid606. It’s a complex piece of conceptual irony with plenty of ambiguity. In the light of the more extended loop manipulations that make up the bulk of the album, this experiment reads nothing like a “remix” or straight ahead subversion. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Arca’s recent genre-queering work, but without the street-wise bounce.

One track, the 6 minute “Vox Your Nu Yr Resolution”, which repeats the title phrase and its answer (“Stayin’ out of trouble”) in a dizzying cascade of chopped and stuttering fragments. The closest touchstone might be Steve Reich’s tape phase pieces, especially “Come Out”, or the early work of Nicholas Collins. Perversely non-musical, but hypnotic nonetheless.

These arch-conceptual experiments are cut with several more low-key interstitials built around the patient gating, slicing, and triggering of a single synth pad or sampled phrase, creating dark, loping atmospheres.

In total, Noi No is a mostly successful collection of post-everything glitch experimentation that seems pleasantly sincere in its desire to subvert without belittling its subject matter. To me, this is highly personal computer music at its best.

January 18, 2013

Tomes: Miscellanea #1

Anyone who knows me is already well aware that I collect junk. Truth be told, it’s kind of a compulsion.
As a self-proclaimed aesthete, I’m an especially avid collector of printed ephemera from the modern era.

In an effort to step up both the variety and frequency of posts on the Globule in the new year, I’m introducing “Miscellanea”, a dumping ground for recent acquisitions, highlighting bright points of graphic inspiration.

TRW Space Log 1970-1971
Not only is this a detailed catalog of every space launch undertaken by man from 1957-1971 (complete with “box score” of successes vs failures by year), the cover is a gem of vectorized space minimalism.

2010 01SJ Biennial Catalog
I was given this “chap-book” size catalog as an attendent of the exhibition, which features simple geometric motifs throughout, and a superb use of multi-color Risograph printing on variously colored pages. I’m a huge fan of the Xerox-esque “Riso Look”, which I first encountered in my role as a borderline slave in a print shop, age 14.

Moise 7″
This mystery Eurodisco 7″ caught my attention with its stylized slab serif type treatment and bootleg artwork. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Plus the cigarette burn adds a whole ‘nother dimension of vintage authenticity.

The Electronic Music Instrument Manual
While I had high hopes for the actual content of the book (it’s mostly about electric organ-style tone generation), the geometric 2-color line art and vague “computer” motif are pretty great on their own. The off-center header is a nice touch.