Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. is a relatively new Belgian label now approaching its first anniversary. Launched last June by Niels Geybels, the label has been slowly upping its production numbers, and as older releases have sold out, is now beginning to re-release its more popular titles. Ambient loop, distorted drone and decayed micro cassette are some of the label’s specialities, but the umbrella is rather large. It’s easy to visit the label’s Soundcloud page on a misty day and be lost for hours.
Earlier this year, the label released Ohm Saw‘s “Latency & Frequency”, described as “turmoil inside dead washing machines.” The description is perfect; the cassette sounds like a darker version of Matmos’ Ultimate Care II. “Frequency” is a monolithic slab of controlled noise, more indicative of AVA’s sound than some of the current releases. Imagine a thunderstorm and fire alarm thrown into the wash by an angry cyborg, who becomes very sorry when the wash overflows. The batch also included Cinema Perdu‘s double-cassette A Perfect Negative, which filters classical samples through a modular synthesizer; and a thick, whispery collaboration between Ivory Trade and False Moniker. The first two are still available, but the label has just unveiled its newest batch: a trio of tapes from Uaxactun, Øjerum and Aymeric De Tapol. Together, the three make a fine entry point to the label.
Uaxactun‘s self-titled C30 is the humblest and shortest of these. With only 33 copies available, it’s not going to last long. The description is intentionally mysterious: “at the heart of the capital were gleaming temples surrounded by cultivated gardens.” Yet one can hear such a contrast in the music: glassine synthesized surfaces and a little bit of dirt, with slow growth stretching from the ground. As the plants rise, the birds approach on Side A; as the volume rises on Side B, so does a light marching beat, like the footsteps of villagers on their way to work. Yet all is not benign; in the tallest temple, the next sacrifice awaits.
Øjerum‘s Naar Vi Vaagner is the label’s most restrained release to date, caught “between hibernation and renewal”, a perfect cassette for this liminal time in which the earth is still shaking off the effects of the cold. The music itself seems to be raising its rectangular plastic hands to the sky while yawning and sighing: it’s time, it’s time, it’s time. In “Det Er Stadig Nat”, the world seems suspended, caught in a loop; but in the closing minutes of the nine-minute title track, motion is apparent: the covers are thrown off, the blinds are opened. After all these adventures in ambience and drone, the pulses of Aymeric de Tapol‘s Walking on a Spoon come as a slight surprise. Once again, the label’s description is enigmatic, leading the reader from “cold club ceilings” to “the lunar surface.” But again the music follows suit, because after the first five minutes, the pulse dissipates, replaced by static and mechanized rustle, like a moonbot on its side. This time, when the beat resumes, it’s as if the little bot has righted itself and begun to explore once more.
Walking on a Spoon travels the greatest internal distance of these three releases. While the first creates contrast between smooth and abraded, and the second slowly awakens from slumber, the third travels from pole to pole, planet to planet, beat to drone, back and forth until it falls once again on its side, exhausted. Fourteen minutes into the first side we find a segment that might even be suitable as *gasp* a single. A steady beat is matched by bell tones, washes of synthesizer and the exhalations of a steam engine. It’s the clearest indication to date that the label is willing to expand its boundaries. The excitement continues on Side B with punk-influenced club beats and industrial rhythms before dissolving in a mass of rust and abrasion. Okay, maybe it’s not Top 40 material yet. But it does tell us that we shouldn’t be sure what to expect from Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. The label is still in its infancy, but it’s already refusing to be pigeonholed. We’re curious to hear what comes next. (Richard Allen)