Somewhere in Milwaukee, August Traeger is having fun illustrating monsters. Eight colorful creatures grace the covers of eight split tapes, each half an hour in length, now available separately or as a batch. This is the perfect example of how cover art can attract the attention. There’s just no resisting these critters. We can imagine them each opening their mouths and making these sounds. While these tapes are often abrasive, their tone is softened by their visual appeal, in the same manner as Gojira was meant to be frightening, but turned out to be a friend.
The series began late last year with Dog Hallucination and Ichtyor Tides, the latter of which has appeared previously on our site. To listen to Dog Hallucination’s “malaise 1-4” is to gain an overview into the series as a whole. The sounds are metallic, distorted, and at times hollow, a stray dog wandering from an installation and ending up on tape. The first part is accessible, the second confrontational, the third recessive and the fourth nearly soothing, leading to Ichtyor Tides’ soft beginning on Side B. But then the chortles and sighs enter, along with otherworldly crunches and organ tones. Something slimy is processing up the pews. By the time it reaches the pulpit, all sense is drowned.
Amalgamated and Odd Person followed, the latter’s name a perfect match for the humanoid alien on the cover. Amalgamated warps broadcasts, mulches music and uses backward masking to create a sense of disease before tripping and falling into a volcano of drone. Then it’s misadventure after misadventure, escaping and being captured once again, beeps and laughter indicating the amusement of someone or something. Odd Person’s oddly titled “nebaj . cotzal . chajul” lays a rhythmic base before slowing, stopping and re-starting. Each time the electricity dies, it gathers its strength and returns with a vengeance, like a monster movie sequel.
In the new year, new monsters continued to appear, starting with Carl Kruger and NJ9824. Truger’s “Evil Peep Hole” is a wash of bubbles, struck glass, utensils and other found objects, and qualifies as musique concrète, sawing and tapping and boiling its way into our hearts. NJ9824 is the opposite of a long take: a series of tight splices, with ping-pong balls, classical radio, birds, planes and drains decorating only the first minute. The piece never slows down (although it does leave 5 minutes of blank space at the end of the tape). “Paranoid Configuration of Space and Time” sounds like an A.D.D. sufferer having an aneurysm, but the overall effect is a perfect reflection of its title.
And then it was time for Promote and Homogenized Terrestrials. Promute’s unique feature is its complete reliance on homemade instruments. The irony is its otherworldly sound. But when one can build a Weird Sound Generator, anything is fair. Much tapping, beeping and squeaking ensues, enough to ensure that this monster is enjoying itself. In the closing minutes, something resembling a song tries to break through. Then Homogenized Terrestrials tries choral vocals, hoping to prompt an interstellar response. The low harmonies are met by treble and high pitched tones that approach the outer thresholds. Does this make us worth contacting, or worth avoiding? The jury is still out.
Crash! Boom! Staplerfahrer‘s “bbbw” is the loudest monster, crashing into buildings and taking down planes. No wonder the cassette is called Excessive Extension. Whether gongs are being struck, or bombs, the result is the same. This is violent, alluring music, offered without compromise. And just when one thinks the monster has wandered away into another town, it returns with a loud screech. Bonehole takes up where Staplefahrer leaves off, adding dissonant tones, static squelch, and unexpected percussion. “Wood Box” grows faster and bleepier until it finally collapses against a soft building.
Miguel A. Garcia starts off Absquatulate Azimuth (Monster Tape Six), followed by Traeger himself. Garcia’s opening track is the quietest of the batch, a whisper instead of a scream. But he doesn’t stay quiet for long. Once the monster approaches, it’s all engines, feedback, noise. The jets are being scrambled. A Geiger counter ending leads to Traeger’s tracks, which sound like claws rummaging for human food in a deep, dark closet. His is perhaps the most sinister of the monsters, which is no surprise considering that second hand. All the better to reach you with. To eat you with. So take no solace in the jaunty nature of the ending. It may seem benign, but it’s presented from the viewpoint of the monster, who’s celebrating his meal: you.
The first of the final pair is titled Immediate Shred, and that’s exactly what it sounds like, as Chefkirk seems to provide a soundtrack for a body run over by a train. The crunches, the industrial clanks and the distortion add up to a sense of unavoidable disaster. Even the monster is screaming. His piece rivals Staplefahrer’s work for the loudest, most constant noise. But s27e152 comes close, a beast of a machine, a cyborg that desperately needs to be oiled but does not care. Snatches of conversation are drowned in the mix, discarded by a robotic brain.
And then finally, the last monster. faint glow brings the terror in sound as well as name. There’s no mistaking the infestation now. The monsters have overrun the city; the buildings are down. Wave upon wave of static charge resonates like missiles launched from the sea, finding their mark yet failing to subdue the monsters. And now the smaller monsters begin to emerge like parameciums, searching for human hosts. In “terror infinite”, sonic depth charges reveal no sign of life. Has humanity lost? Justin Scott Gray attempts to answer the question in a quintet of tracks, but provides little hope, his soft drones exploding into dissonance and fuzz. Even the most rhythmic piece, “K.omodo D.ragon Lang”, settles into a loop before its battery dies at the end. Yes, the monsters have won. But in this alternative universe, that’s what we wanted. We were cheering for them all along. (Richard Allen)