Italian cassette label Archivio Diafònico is about to turn one year old. Their newest releases compete a sextet of drone and noise works that when played in order progress from spooky to fearful, shaded to black. The volume levels increase, the distortion bars plow into the red, and the experiments grow from curious to insane. Five of the tapes are 20-22 minutes long, and only one an hour, but each costs only 5€. We’re hoping for new copies of the early, sold-out entries. The words “First Edition” on the latest release suggest that they may be repressed if demand dictates.
First out the box is Napoli duo Matar Dolores, whose tape The Great Transformation is perfect for the haunted house season. This is the type of dark ambience that the Cold Meat Industries label used to specialize in releasing: meat locker music, with chains, creaks and disembodied voices, knocks and crunches and other disorientations. Whispers, shades, and shuffles abound; there’s something in the basement, the attic, the closet and right behind you. Much of the music is comprised of tape loops, but it comes across as echoes and ghosts. With two minutes to go, an enormous crash startles the listener; after so many minutes of unease, a precious payoff. The duo is currently on tour, spreading aural anxiety throughout Eastern Europe; a new album is expected soon.
Blood Feud‘s AM Fields continues in this tradition, which is easy to understand given the fact that Giuseppe Esposito is also half of Matar Dolores (as well as the founder of the Archivio Diafònico label). The difference is that these recordings are mostly comprised of AM radio transmissions, which Esposito imagines as “scattered deserts of consciousness spreading across the sleeping world.” But this isn’t the sort of transmission one might expect ~ not the scatterings of 70s pop hits and talk show hosts spouting personal opinions to tiny audiences. Instead, these sounds reflect the transmissions themselves: the static, the electric wire, the sonic invisible. Beneath these abstractions, hints of the “real” break through: a snatch of song here, a garbled word there. But the power is in the conveyance of an alternate message that is much harder to decipher. If AM radio normally offers listeners a cure to insomnia, AM Fields is likely to make one bolt awake, clutching for a bat or gun to combat the clashing swords heard in the closing minutes.
Torba (Mauro Diciocia) is also Italian, but resides in Germany. In only 20 minutes, Fjàrn runs a gamut of emotions. The repeated sounds of a squeaking gate are accompanied by footfalls; a drone grows in volume and intensity, while a radio transmission seeks to break through ether, connecting this release with the one before. As “Taghj” progresses, harsher sounds infiltrate the speakers like broken thunderclaps. The menace is no longer hidden; it’s here. Listening is like being caught in a sandstorm, unable to find shelter. There’s just no telling if one will be able to survive. The abraded cover image is an apt reflection of the sounds within; nothing remains intact in such an onslaught. If a small respite is given, it is the break of conversation two-thirds through; but then the words repeat, and one realizes it’s just another loop. The gate is still squeaking, not malevolent, simply cold. The title track is a bit warmer, but still needs a jacket; someone is rifling through the kitchen cabinets, but musical chords keep him company. Perhaps it is best to back away without touching his shoulder. That sandstorm returns halfway through, twice as loud as it was before. There’s no getting out this time. You’re cooked, and probably eaten as well. A sudden silence in the sixth minute only means someone is checking the recipe book. We’re halfway through the tapes, but the sun has only just begun to set.
Tourette‘s Cendrier du Voyage takes only 51 seconds to get loud. Given the moniker that Benjamin Clement has chosen for his work, this comes as no surprise; the surprise is instead found in the inspiration, a collection of poems by Jacques Dupin. If this harsh, abrasive set of sounds seems to come across as something other than poetry, it may be that the listener is unfamiliar with its anguished and angry side. Rumi this is not. Dupin writes of “cruel geography” and of a world without gods, where human beings must fight to eke an existence. Tourette echoes Dupin’s words with fragments and clumps of noise, jumbled together like unchecked obscenities. In light of this inspiration, the cover art suggests Mt. Sinai, yet without Yahweh: the ascension of a mountain to rail at nothing and no one, finally left alone with one’s self. The music boils and erupts like magma, subsuming all within its path: words, poems, protests, faith and unbelief. The title is translated as “the ashtray of the journey,” and by the end, only cinders remain.
Now we get to the two latest releases. What could be more extreme than non-stop noise assault? Snatches of music, louder volume and dissonance. 70fps gets right into it; the very first second dictates the tape’s tone. Campo Catodico (Cathodic Field) is a study in feedback generated from the use of “amplified super8 projectors, prepared films, selfmade and hacked video and audio devices”, and as such might be classified as extreme aural cinema. This isn’t a soundtrack; it’s the soundtrack of a soundtrack, a reflection of the machinery behind the images, the gears and electrical devices that power the moving pictures. 70fps (Andrea Saggiomo) usually uses both in his performances, and this tape is the first to be surgically removed from the eyes. When a high-pitched frequency takes over midway through Side A, the listener wonders if it’s been there all along, or if the pitch is meant to imitate tinnitus. Saggiomo then assaults the ears by thrusting and removing blasts of sound at irregular intervals, toying with the idea of sonic architecture. The result is not pleasant, but fascinating: is this, as Garret Keizer writes, “the unwanted sound of everything we want?”
Finally we arrive at SEC_‘s Stalatitte, the loudest-mastered of these six recordings and the most musical. Regularly timed chords anchor the opening minutes of Side A, allowing the other, more percussive sounds to roam the deck. When these chords drop out, desperate, choked cries are discerned in the sonic debris. But when they return, they do so not with rescue oars, but with clubs. Naples’ Mimmo Napolitano (SEC_) works primarily with reel-to-reel, but mimics the inclusion of church organs and concert orchestras; at one point deep in Side A, it seems as if his cave is covered in cellos, yet we know this to be an illusion. Side B sounds more like a pack of motorcyclists driving into the ocean, their engines somehow remaining intact, as helicopter pilots search for them from above. At 7:39, a low hum overwhelms a series of high screeches, which offer momentary protests before sinking in the sludge. If this is to be my final note, the artist seems to be saying, let it be a good one. (Richard Allen)