Think back to the music you enjoyed as an adolescent. You can probably recall the artists, the treasured albums. But also, the media you were using. Did you grow up in the analogue age or the digital? For some, that dividing line defines their identity as listeners. The physicality of vinyl. The transitory frequencies of radio. In a decade or two, will we wistfully look back and recollect the days of enormous FLAC collections? Will anyone harbour fond memories of low-bitrate streaming platforms?
In my own teenage years, CD players were expensive. I stuck with cassettes a while longer. It is difficult to feel nostalgic about rewinding, respooling and tape degradation. However, JC Leisure is managing it. For some years, he has been reutilising old mixtapes of 1990s rave culture. A series of free releases documents his live sets, where the source material collides with live synth and sampler manipulation. He refers to the process as “archaeological”. Numerous sounds are unearthed, from ambient to breakbeat and from dub to noise. Some do not resemble the original buried artefacts.
Mutations For translates the process into a polished 28-minute release. While the sounds originate in the past, the process is of the present. Feeding samples of the tapes through software patches, JC Leisure hands some of the control over to the machine. The recordings direct their own mutations, which the DJ curates and orchestrates. The result is a fantasia with its club roots hidden deep. Beats are barely discernible in background pulses and chatterings. Melodies are slowed down into patient, ritualised synth or glacial guitar and horn lines.
While this music may be rooted in magnetized tape, Mutations For is a free digital release, whose physical form is a printed poster. Within the recording itself, the ephemeral and the mechanical are similarly blurred. Metallic noises stand in relief against pearlescent layers of organic ambience. Where voices enter, they are lowered in speed and pitch to make indecipherable rumblings. What the album evokes of the cassette age is that rare moment, where the batteries on your Walkman were running low, but the music was somehow more interesting as a warbled mass.
“Perfect sound forever.” That’s what the advertisers promised at the advent of the CD. Nobody had heard of “disc rot” in the 1980s. Keeping your discs away from heat and humidity will extend their lives. Wipe them clean, our next album reminds us, (always in a straight line, from centre to edge). Despite these precautions, sections of the album are akin to a skipping disc. Others resemble being spun in an enormous machine, scanned by an optical reader.
The Kendal Mintcake is a New Jersey experimentalist and owner of Big Sleep Records. He has more than a decade of experience in processing samples in bizarre, unwarranted ways. A recent example worth hearing is 2016’s The Kendal Mintcake Presents All-Star Erotic Hypnosis. Where JC Leisure puts faith in software patches, TKM puts faith in the gods of chance. Using a random number generator to choose CDs within his collection, then tracks and times within each disc, TKM isolated one hundred samples. Ten samples are processed at a time, resulting in ten numbered tracks, each 4:08 in length.
The sounds of (always in a straight line… might be described as “frantic ambient”. Distant alarms, repetitive clanging, and insistent pulsing form the percussion section. Whirring noises at various pitches fly in and out of the soundscape, like sharpened boomerangs. The ticking of a double-time clock emerges, while rushes of noise give the cinematic effect of time moving backwards. It is impossible to know where the samples end and the processing begins. Nor would I hazard a guess as to what genres of music went under the knife.
In the era of physical media, you might go to a friend’s house and browse through their record/tape/CD collection. Both these albums offer a bewildering equivalent for a time of information overload. Whole troves of recorded sound bombard us at once. The experience is not relaxing, but eye-opening. The data of the past rushes over us, and something new emerges in the process. (Samuel Rogers)