Based out of Jakarta, Indonesia, Tandem Tapes represents a new voice in the fringe world of cassette labels. Pairing up experimental sound artists with similar sensibilities across limited-run releases, Tandem Tapes showcases current work from vast parts of the globe, spanning from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a sprawling spread of 10,138 miles. The music released is equally expansive, ranging from industrial noisescapes to ambient drones, from sci-fi thriller soundtracks to quirky garage rock.
Despite obvious differences in geographic locations and sonic sensibilities, three similarities unite Tandem Tapes’ releases from the leading half of 2017: 1) instrumentation – a preponderance of synthesizers and field recordings; 2) methodology – an organic mode of composition guided intuitively by hands and ears; and 3) humor – as in the philosophical system corresponding to one’s elemental temperament (not the ha-ha-funny type): in this case, various forms of melancholy. Fortunately, for the wary listener, Tandem Tapes’ defining disposition is far from a terminal case of dread and dissolution.
During the days of ancient Greece, many physicians and philosophers adopted a system of medicine called humoralism, maintaining that the human body is filled in varying proportions with four essential substances, called humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. While a balance of humors benefits one’s mental and physical health, an imbalance—resulting from corrupting influences in one’s lifestyle or environmental circumstances—leads to diseases, or even disabilities.
If the ancient Greeks symbolically associated each humor with a certain season, element, organ, and temperament—positioning each humor within a framework which measured the self in connection with the world—Tandem Tapes’ aesthetic embodies the black bile humor: autumnal shadings, lugubrious yearnings, and cool, dry atmospherics. It would also identify the spleen as its regulating organ. Yet the spleen is much more than just a brown filter located in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen, and Tandem Tapes is much more than just another label churning out noise in the underground. Besides playing important roles in supporting the immune system, producing proteins used by the immune system to neutralize pathogens, the spleen additionally helps heal injured tissues, deploying monocytes which digest cellular debris and foreign substances. Likewise, Tandem Tapes digests the cultural grime jeopardizing man’s spiritual well-being.
Comparable to the tandem bicycle, an icon for the label’s namesake, Tandem Tapes’ releases explore the reactive aesthetic between its artists—an underlying dialogue guiding every album. Regardless of the surface differences, Tandem Tapes’ catalog is unified by a reprisal of the much-maligned melancholy: a sepia-toned stoicism; vaporous flesh shed in offering; an Alpha-here-now-dawning-but-Omega-elsewhere-ending. Theirs is not a music of disease or deficiency, but the sound of an ongoing encounter between individual and environment. Peddling cassettes within a spleen-abiding framework, Tandem Tapes embodies sonic survival at its fittest, offering up medicine for every ear: a self-diagnosis forgoing the need for any doctor’s note.
With a self-effacing moniker that could double as the name of a Gnostic prescription on an otherwise blank label (perhaps purposely intended to be misused by the careless patient), sound_00 teases sonic nerve endings without remorse. Ceaseless scene changing creates a continuous sense of bewilderment. Clock tower bells toll behind layers of voices in congregation—the words garbled to a dull clamor—melting into a turbine roiling into a flurry. The backdrop then flips to what could be a desert vista—rattlesnakes hissing in heatwaves—or the swarming ambience of an open-air market. Confusion peaks when squealing sine waves cede to languorous lounge music. Where did all the people go? sound_00’s kaleidoscope of audible debris is enough to rip a shirt off a back.
Motorik rhythms abound in Big Geoffrey’s little shop of noir. Specializing in junk yard refurbishments, Big Geoffrey welds together unlikely sonic pairings from untouched corners of the lot. Rusty springs slink beside greasy cogs in a nest of corroded batteries: old-world mementos for the irradiated inhabitants of an off-world colony. Dusty vinyl grooves lock in loops, providing a metronomic beat for slivered feedback as sparse strings slash across hot pickups. But beware, sunlight retreats quickly in this off-world colony. Suddenly, a sandstorm smothers all outgoing transmissions, solar-powered gusts obscuring every porthole on base. Even in the future, machines are still at the mercy of weather. Although androids may not dream of electric sheep, is anything better qualified to tend the flock than the timeless?
Teasips’ sole member, Angela Frances Wilson, may not have a background in alternative medicine or an eye for fungi, but her relationship to the flute resembles that of a meditation retreat counselor with a background in mycology. Her venerated leading instrument receives an intimate examination, electronically treated to trill serenely like crystal flutes or coo like pan-pipes warmed at fireside. An ever-dutiful beacon on a jagged shoreline, the woodwind beams boldly throughout, brightened by skipping harmonics through clinging coastal fog. Monkish melodies wrapped in a reverb-soaked blanket of metallic jinglings mingle with field recordings foaming ever so lightly—tinkling wind chimes, wind-rustled pond reeds, kids playing merrily—all pixelated to a sleepy-eyed haze.
Naps specializes in the sort of cradle-rocked nursery narcotic—woozy, but elated—best paired with a warm cup of tea (perhaps Honey Vanilla Chamomile—just a suggestion). Sparse keyboards murmur in rhythmic cells over a bed of muted field recordings. The joyful sound of kids playing in a schoolyard colludes with the crosscurrent of conversations in a bustling market, each layer overlapping its neighbor in diverging ripples. Soft, laser-like synths push through radio static—the liminal station resembling rain on a hot tin roof—while snippets of a woman’s voice loop behind dusk-chilled synth lines arcing through autumn mist.
If Mowgli and his rag-tag group of backwoods sidekicks had ever formed a garage band, it may have sounded just like Henokh Setiawan: music raised in the Indian jungle by wolves, yet nourished by the wind. Baloo’s bass clomps along ponderously, dragging low enough to draw sparks; Bagheera’s guitar creeps in neat, lean lines; King Louie’s drum kit clatters slightly off-kilter—as if tempo were an after-thought. Mowgli, of course, assumes the vocals, scat singing with primal abandon, soaring high as the midday sun. Then there’s the piano: glorious, rickety, barely synced lines evoking a grog-inebriated tenant tinkering at the keys while daydreaming about how best to muster this month’s rent. In the jungle, at least the landlords are lax.
Prìson may be a perfectly apropos title for this band of detention center ruffians. If their bristling production and no-nonsense attitude fail to state it clearly, these are backstreet punks who cut their teeth on Carl Perkins, but made a post-dance advance on their prom dates while listening to Dick Dale in the back of their parents’ cars—namely, greasers armed with butterfly knives and a reckless hair-do or two. A halting synth syncs with an ice-cold bass line as the guitars climb angular scales—whammy-bared like whiplashes trading blows with martial drum fills. One can almost picture the drummer recruiting a bar stool as a fill-in for the toms while the band finishes its noisy set, alone—long after last call in a small town dive. A clanking glass bottle serves as a woozy metronome while the tinny tambourine doubles as spurs from a pair of dirty boots—dirty, like candy wrappers and cigarette butts glued to a sole by spearmint gum.
Makunouchi Bento’s sweeping synths evoke aquatic landscapes smeared with luminous acrylic. Sonar pings lead a lone submarine downward, deeper, probing the ocean floor for crash survivors amid recent debris. Cold synths pierce the murky haze like headlights. Electronic squiggles approximate a passing pod of dolphins as the submarine resounds from distant whale calls. Delayed percussion skips in place, trailing seaweed glowing with iridescence. Eventually, the submarine surfaces to Morse-code scrapings encroaching between post-Pompeii blasts and the primal patter of wood blocks and hollow drums. As if the air weren’t heavy enough, an arco’d cello labors a lugubrious farewell, sawed till a flock of seagulls arrives to peck away at flaccid strings.
Somnoroase Pasarele smears saccharine synths into tangential lines, each echoing the same theme obliquely. The production is stalactite-dripping, bat-scuttling subterranean throughout. Heat-seeking synths tangle with metallic violin scrapings slowly flanged with synthetic horns, whirling, building to a blur, reverb-soaked to a cavernous roar. Moody keys smolder against a bulging backdrop of cold, black space while atonal strings squeak brightly—swirling, floating freely like heated wax in a lava lamp programmed to interpret the closing of a silent film. Two lovers lie locked at hips and lips in a chapel nave as the sun sets, color quickly fading from the stained glass windows precisely at that moment—that swan-hearted moment—when their rousing vows are shared.
Beholding guitar duets like mantras uttered in moss-covered temples, Ritual 77 conjures atmospheres lingering only long enough to create a mood. Ranging from dirge-like ditties (the altar candles flickering in somber relief) to zephyr-stirred prettiness (faint melodies teased from crystalline strings), clean guitars yield to hotter signals: 12 strings climbing skyward, entwining, then unraveling from organ chords fixed to summer trellises. Faint choral vocals sway beside church bells tinkling with wind chimes treated and looped in a care-free breeze—a hint of peppermint, perhaps? Arpeggios laze tenderly with e-bowed root notes coaxed to a purr. Is this a spaghetti western gone weak at the knees, fumbling for a handkerchief to hide its puffy eyes? Quick, get the band a handkerchief; even if they don’t need it, the delicate listener may.
Gareth Flowers employs the trumpet like a virtual choir. A vapor of multi-tracked horns is treated to accent their imperial nature; the notes are brightly rounded, yet warmly frayed. Field recordings further fill the corners. A cooing baby calls for affection; sparse strings quiver in approval; ticking clocks remind us just how far we have come from the cradle. The versatile horns sometimes shine cleaner than dinner plates, while at other times appear fuzzier than over-driven guitars. Some phrases are flushed to their lung-filled limits and some play lazily with scales; yet they all seem somehow fragile, muted, precious, plucked from his trumpet like golden pearls. Gareth Flowers presents an organic take on minimalist grandeur doubling as spiritual supplication. Donations to The Great Divine are not required, but are appreciated.
Blaring sirens signal a daytime airstrike as buzzing aircraft circle furiously overhead. Achromaticist believes that the cold war will end here in bunkers beneath slabs of concrete where the survivors retire on stretchers hooked up to IV drips filled with Robitussin, slipping into the night on the back of silken afterthoughts. Distorted guitars clamor, scraping and gouging through slate-grey skies above a nuclear testing facility to a lugubrious synth throbbing in a monotone key (pulsing in sync with the hospital’s EKG, depolarizing and repolarizing with each heartbeat). Emergency drill instructions crackle faintly through a backup PA system, dust settling slowly atop concrete debris littering the EQ spectrum. A hollow drum machine eventually appears, marching in step to lithe, skeletal guitar lines that fade back to a pockmarked panorama.
In Boundary Layer’s Land of Nod, murky cloud cover occasionally parts to braided plumes, as smokestacks belch filthy reminders of man’s industrial by-products: asbestos filled air ducts, steam-filled engine rooms and premonitions lurking in stereo wires. Gyrating machines cluck and clatter listlessly. Shrill sine waves writhe as encroaching distortion shifts closer, closer still, like walls of rusty nails. Bent circuits, fried beyond repair, hiss black smoke singing nose hair, while flanged feedback lacerates with monofilament whips. A pinging echolocation device tweaked to a didgeridoo low directs a murky passage downward.
Bluntly titled to rouse the ire of the arm-chair escapist, To Die offers no soothing euphemisms for the world weary. Composed largely of metallic scrapings drenched in swampy grit, To Die evokes a subway station recorded over the course of 24 hours, seemingly while the listener was passed out, and then later condensed to 20 minutes, leaving a time-lapse document of buzzing, hissing, grinding mayhem. Subway brakes squeal with tireless rust upon entering the station; a nearby air conditioner rattles and hums; an amateur street performer explores the violin bow; an ever-passing throng swirls with lisping voices. Together, these elements form a humid, sticky mess swarmed by Mayflies. Wet suits are not included, but are highly recommended.
Waxing like bacchanalian tide pools under a slivered moon, Borejko sweats feverish nocturnes cloaked in aqueous reverb. With the EQ scooped in the middle, life takes vague shapes in Borejko’s twilight landscape. Flecks of trebled scrapings curl above tectonic lows while crazed vocals plea to Poseidon. Or is that a troop of sea lions fighting for mating rights through dockside fog? Flatulent bass crumbles past pixilation, pulsing to the sporadic rhythm of a giant’s asthmatic breathing. But wait: quiet now! A writhing, hulking creature rustles beneath the water, rising slowly to the surface, then stops: the scarred backside of a Leviathan unveils itself, frozen in floodlights beside a glowing synth note bobbing in place. The visitor from the deep thrashes once more, its broad tail slapping the water into waves, before withdrawing, with a sigh, into the fathomless sea. (Todd B. Gruel)