\\NULL|ZØNE// has published a few tapes for late 2017 and early 2018 whose sound ranges and styles differ quite a bit, but which are connected by an undercurrent of personal, relatively idiosyncratic aesthetics. “Homegrown experimentalism”, the label calls it, not in the nationalistic sense (I think) but in the way in which all these artists develop new sounds that are not really interested in currents or in overtly academic thought.
Perhaps the clearest example is the Phillip Bückle and Michael Potter tape, each side of which is entitled differently: Bückle’s They Never Got the Message and Potter’s End of Summer Music develop a naturalistic theme in which improv sways from sharp droning and unpredictability to melodic psychedelics and minimalism over the course of 40 minutes. Thus, the two sides flow into each other, however you wish to play them, with Potter’s stable but polyphonic approach mirrored by Bückle’s shifting structures, allowing the noise and uncertainty of the latter to become even more striking, or the mantra-like development of the first to become even more soothing. The cover art by the excellent Caro Mikalef reflects well the juxtaposition taking place between artists, styles, and modi operandi, in which Bückle’s experiments with the recording process itself (like in “The Craftsman”) resonates with Potter’s much more straightforward focus on ambience and mood.
Mood is something that Carey’s Other People excels at, taking a folk base for a ride in jazzy arrangements and modern compositional techniques, producing a quietly engaging album in which experimentalism does not immediately translate to jagged sounds. It drives a powerful eclecticism instead, not the kind that finds in putting things together out of context the sum of all beauties, but the kind that emphasizes the tensions inherent to such relationships of an uneven, unclear nature. Carey plunges into free jazz often, which is to say the interplay between radically different elements that allow for contemplation of the ‘other’ to emerge, but is no stranger to melodic predictability and a low-key intensity of the kind that emerged with early post-rock bands. “Nationalist Salad” could have been lifted out of a Jaga Jazzist album, but the context that surrounds it places its flexible, a-structural charm right in the middle of a vortex of different moods and styles that makes it, well, somehow inherently strange.
Frank Hurricane and Michael Potter’s Cigarette Museum exemplifies the strangeness, the off-key sensation of what \\NULL|ZØNE// is promoting as experimentalism, ever from the cartoon album cover. Like some of the best album art coming out from the vaporwave scene and its derivatives, it finds joy and pain in kitschy appropriations of classical topics; Cigarette Museum, like its name indicates, grows from the humorous exaltation of banality, juxtaposing lo-fi aesthetics with the outsider art playing style of bands like Chicagojazzen (except doing away with childhood instruments: there is violence taking place here, after all). It thrives upon ironic exaggeration, like the silly, very rockist guitar noodling of “Roan Winds” and the rapping in “He Used to be an Indian Pymp”, “Keep it Shrymp” and “Be Kind”. Perhaps against vaporwave’s academicism and subtlety, Hurricane and Potter explosively deconstruct, defy, and find warmth in purposively clichéd and almost-badly-played conventions of folk, rock, and pop music.
In contrast, we have the earnestness and sincerity of Jacob Sunderlin’s Hymnal, a droning endeavor of folk primitivism as processed through the lens of EAI and noise music. The fantastic cover shows a dreamworld of people apparently rising from their graves, their new lives announced by a heavenly horn in the midst of a formless cloud. There is a minimalist, psychedelic quality to this Hymnal, with a never-ending stream of strings in side one, upon which plucked acoustic guitar builds and builds upward until sound juxtapositions of tape hisses and field recordings of a Catholic ceremony take over. The guitar is always the personal, individual constant in the mass of distinct sounds, sometimes distant and muffled, sometimes clear and close, almost always turning a noise into an integral part of a pastoral melody. Side two is just as evocative, letting the string drones lead the way into a bright new life, culminating with a happy folk section that segues right into the drones again, peacefully leaving everything else behind.
Letting go is precisely one of the main themes of Hungry Ghosts, a harsh, noisy dirge by Dendera Bloodbath. If the name sounds like something out of black metal to you, you’re catching on this project alright: I could perfectly imagine a Dendera Bloodbath and WOLD collaboration. The topic comes from the Tibetan book of the dead, and the personal nature of the creation of the album drives the point forward that this is just as honest as Sunderlin’s tape, except instead of hopefully directing its gaze upward to life after death, it carves a space downwards, where all melody is gone and all that’s left is texture. The texture of nothingness, the grinding, flowing feedback of harsh noise becoming an all-encompassing environment, intervened here and there by clear-cut chants that last no more than a few seconds and which emphasize the uniqueness of the experimentalism here practiced – it has the potential of sounding as silly as Cigarette Museum’s mixes, but Hungry Ghosts simply does not care, and is stronger for it.
\\NULL|ZØNE// and its “homegrown experimentalism” is, in short, a breath of fresh air if you’re coming from the kind of experimental music that prizes high conceptualisms and philosophical questions – this is the innovative, new stuff that you could do, that’s more related to everyday acts of listening and punk than the classically-inclined explorations of better known artists in the field. (David Murrieta)