Michigan-based cassette label Space Slave is enjoying a well-deserved vacation this summer, after releasing an astounding nine tapes in July. Swim Trunks is the set’s crown jewel, a double-cassette featuring four artists, one on each side. Any of these could have occupied a tape on their own, but here they venture out together across a sparkling lake of analogue ambience.
If you had half an hour to make an impression, what would you do? Each of these artists chooses to record a full half-hour track, although silences and timbre shifts indicate that they are presented in movements. Günter Schlienz starts the quartet gently with “Watermarked Memories”. This self-taught musician is no stranger to the tape format; this is at least his tenth release, and he’s recorded for such familiar names as SicSic Tapes and Constellation Tatsu. His love for homemade instruments translates to a homespun sound. The opening ten minutes are especially lovely, twinkling like stars reflected from calm surfaces. Then it starts to rain, but this doesn’t ruin his day. Safe inside a cabin, he experiments with modulated tones and soothing frequencies, the musician’s equivalent of a rainy day board game. In the final third, the stars return like bells.
Kyle Landstra is even more prolific, releasing cassettes or splits approximately every two months. “Glittering Devotions to Lake Michigan” begins in the same vein as “Watermarked Memories”; one can visualize the dock, the oars, the cannonballs, the sandwiches. But after a few minutes, a cloud arrives wrapped in a synthesized drone. This darker tinge at first seems a harbinger, but as the day goes on, it dissipates, leaving behind a lingering sense of melancholy. Enjoy these finite days. Then at 11:35, a different sort of guest arrives, a mechanical mosquito that buzzes but doesn’t bite. From this point on, the track grows increasingly melodic. Synthesized chimes battle with the mosquito buzz, breaking through in the 20th minute like the irrepressible sun. The final eight minutes contribute a soft strum; nothing will keep this day from its glory.
Seattle’s N Chambers is Norm Chambers, also known as Panabrite. On his own Bandcamp page, we learn that the half-hour “Bathysphere Suite” is comprised of six distinct parts: “Descent Overture”, “Pod Valve”, “Activated Carbon”, “Leviathan”, “Trident” and “Embolism Valve”. One can’t help but think of Petrels’ Haeligewielle, as the subject of bathyspheres is uncommon in music. The sub-aquatic sounds of this suite sound just like their inspiration. The beeps and pings resonate like sonar or the darting of unfamiliar fish. Particularly appealing are the muted waves that appear in the ninth minute and the muffled birds in the tenth, close yet out of reach. When a dominant drone develops, classical and bright, it sounds like hypoxia or hope. And then a very unexpected element emerges. At 17:13, guitar and glockenspiel enter, serenading each other like the shore and the sea. These instruments provide Swim Trunks with its finest moments. When they disappear, one imagines the end of air.
Ryan McGill has recorded more music as Bones of Seabirds than as Cliffsides, but he resurrects the latter alias for “Frozen and Dilated”. This piece pairs well with “Bathysphere Suite” and occupies the same cassette. Watery echoes sound from a muffled source, growing in volume and intensity until the sixth minute, when they are temporarily overtaken by a pervasive hum. Gulls appear, scavenging for scraps. As sea and bird do battle, one imagines an emaciated sailor clinging to a raft, sure of his fate but not of its nature. At the center of the piece, the drone drowns everything in its wake, like a rogue wave. Organ tones provide an unforgiving requiem. The sea has now reclaimed its own. By the end of Swim Trunks, one intuits an overall arc, from benign lake to callous ocean; but then one realizes that water is indifferent to its own power and the shape of human projections. (Richard Allen)