ESTWeb Home Page | Reviews Index
This is one among many: the United States is home to a very large number of small cassette labels, releasing music that might not ever see the light of day. Some of it is thoroughly conventional, lacking only the professionalism that might allow it a better outlet. Some of it is thoroughly unconventional, and if it's not released in this medium it never will be. A lot of it is produced by people who simply want to make music and make it available while avoiding the need to make it a career or get involved in the music industry. The resulting cassette scene is a very valuable thing: anything goes, and anyone can get their artistic creations heard through it.
It's fair to say that a lot of what results is of limited interest. Maybe it's somebody playing around with tape loops and cheap synths in their bedroom, the resulting music being something of great personal value but not really anything that is going to communicate to that many other people. On the other hand, some of what results is every bit as good as, and sometimes better, than any other music you'll find. And some of it explores new musical genres that no-one else has yet discovered. Sorting the gold from the shit can be a hard task, but Violet Glass Oracle is one of the more consistently high-quality labels I've encountered.
Violet Glass Oracle is run by one person, Greg Gasiorowski. Greg has also been responsible for the music project Gregorian George, now at an end. He has decided, after sixteen tape releases, to put V.G.O. on hold while concentrating on his own musical projects: Du Pont, a rock-oriented band, and Dime, a solo music project following in the footsteps of the bizarre and esoteric Gregorian George, but more sequencer based. However, all previous V.G.O. releases are still available, and quite a few are well worth seeking out.
The Untitled Hour (VGO 009) 49 minutes
Abner Malaty's release consists of several tracks ranging from 28 seconds to nearly 15 minutes in length, each titled only by their duration, for example 5:54. It's abstract electronic music, combining some recognisable synthetic whooshes, gurglings and oscillations with waves of static and fuzzy industrial noise. Something like what you might hear in a metal-walled cavern deep within an alien military complex. At least, that's the comparison that comes most readily to my mind ... It creates a very clearly defined, strangely tinted world, with plenty of variety and a nice blend of disparate odd noises. Curious, unearthly stuff.
Pier Luigi Andreoni and Francesco Paladino
Aeolyca (VGO 005) 35 minutes
This release was recorded in 1988 by two Italian musicians, making use of sculptures by Mario Ciccioli which resonate in response to wind. The resulting sound material is manipulated and used as the backing for a quiet but not complacent atmospheric music environment. Sounds reminiscent of synthetic crickets are mixed with variously-pitched drones to create something inevitably reminiscent of Brian Eno's ambient music, but also echoing numerous "environmental-sound" composers. It's sometimes contemplative in mood, sometimes more uneasy, and certainly competent and attractive. Unfortunately, there's a surfeit of similar music around, and it doesn't quite have enough to it to make it stand out as a lasting classic of the genre. Two short tracks differ noticeably in style, Sunday Clothes for Brass Bands and The Peruvian Club, both of which meld spacious brass sounds to repetitive minimal rhythms and atmospherics, and wouldn't sound out of place on the Made to Measure label.
Hanna Reitsch (The World's 1st Jet Pilot) (VGO 004) C60
24 tracks here and they're pretty varied in style. Several short extracts from a live performance Cybernetic Primal Therapy present a dozen performers producing chaotic and crowded compositions, talking, playing instruments and radios all on top of each other. Other compositions use noisy and/or heavily distorted guitars, sax, bass, keyboards etc. Everything is disjointed, without any real discipline. Neither the improvisations or the compositions really seem to go anywhere, just mixing noises together in a frequently discordant manner. Only really recommended for fans of New York noisy free improv or the noisy NYC avant-garde in general.
Dead Goldfish Ensemble
Eye to Eye (VGO 007) C60
This Ensemble hails from the south coast of our own fair country. Eye to Eye marks them out as producers of purveyors of warm, modest instrumental music, apparently synthetic in origin. The music displayed here is melodic and rhythmic, with a never-ending repetitive basis that keeps everything flowing smoothly along. The sounds are far from being cliched electronic creations, reminding me more of whimsical, alternate-world versions of real instruments in their range of tonality. The constantly repeating melodic phrases and rhythms is noticeably minimalist in style, the resemblance made even stronger thanks to the use of tuned percussive sounds (xylophone, marimbas etc). It's pleasant stuff, although the synthetic nature of the instrumentation makes it sometimes sound a bit too plastic. It easily had enough intricacy and variety to maintain my interest. The third track, IE, is enjoyably lively, while the final piece consists mostly of birdsong and soft instrumental drones.
Du Pont (no catalogue number)
There are four tracks on this tape, all dense, no-nonsense, wordless three-piece rock energy. It's a particularly opaque sort of noise, dulled and mindless rather than sharp and unsettling. Texturally it's mildly interesting, although it's miles away from the guitar textures of Elliott Sharp or Glenn Branca. If you play this really loud then you'll probably really enjoy it, whether you're a metal fan or not. But if you play someone like Ministry at a similar volume you'll not only enjoy it, you'll also induce epileptic fits in your neighbours. This doesn't even come close.
A Question of Brain Cell Mutation (VGO 013) C60
The final Gregorian George release is a typical piece of work from the cassette scene, if any of this can ever be called typical. Unidentifiable clockwork rhythms, buzzes and whirs of peculiar noises, manipulated taped voices and an unorthodox sense of what makes music tick. On this recording, J Krishnamurti's words are incessantly used as part of the soundscape, set amidst a sea of speeded up and slowed down sounds that occasionally remind you of real life, but more often do nothing of the sort. This is a genuinely new, elusive musical genre, combining the sensibilities of the Residents with the music-making skills of Stockhausen at the age of five. Bizarre, distinctive, and prone to make your mind wander along some rarely trod pathways. At the same time, it's not musical enough or familiar enough to be easy listening, and takes a lot of getting into. You may well find it unlistenable. But do try this at home kids!
Rebuilding the Origin (Organic Tapes OT034) 51 minutes
This is a bit different from the above. The nine tracks on here are quietly recorded, low-pitched sequences of drones and oscillations, soft synths and the like. The cassette asks you to <169>play at high volume<170>, but you have little choice given the low recording level. The effect, especially once you tune out the highest frequencies to get rid of the inevitable hiss is to concentrate your attention on all the resonant low frequencies, which proves quite interesting, although I don't know whether it's intentional. The series of abstract sound structures presented on the tape are moderately interesting, but coupled to the poor sound quality, I can only suggest this as a tape to be avoided. [Available from A.P.E.A.C. / Organic Tapes, 130, cours Berriat, F-38000 Grenoble, FRANCE]
Gris-Nez (VGO 016) C45
This French duo provide 22 short, playful compositions for piano and other instruments, including acoustic guitar, voice, keyboards and what sound like toys instruments. Influences come from all sorts of piano-playing styles: jazz, folk and classical. It's hardly earth-shattering, but it is a straightforward and very pleasant sound. Gentle and unassuming, a nice friendly music aimed at all but the most cynical. It's not all sweetness and simplicity either: there are one or two darker moods evoked by these little vignettes and effective use made of cycling little groups of notes. (Gris-Nez was also released on labels in Germany, France and Italy: write for addresses if you want them).
Inside Clouds (VGO 015) C45
Inside Clouds is atmospheric electronic music, simple and moderately effective. It opens with waves of bass drone and whispers of windy static. Tiny bleeps gradually float into the mix, and the whole thing is evocative of a strange oceanic space. More varied, ponderous synth tones are added, until the first side ends up with repetitive cycles of bright little phrases, with sweet little note clusters laid on top. Side two encompasses several moods, including weird spacey trilling, trippy picked guitar and material vaguely reminiscent of a slightly more experimental Vangelis. Generally enjoyable.
Near the Flogging Landscape (VGO 014) C60
OK, I admit it. There is such a thing as too much Brian Eno, and Vidna Obmana appears to have listened to too much Brian Eno. As if listening to all that wistful ambience wasn't enough, Vidna has seen fit to regurgitate it all for us using the usual combination of electronics, tapes, loops and acoustic treatments. It's beautiful music: that needs to be said. It's hypnotic, gentle, thoroughly lovely; slow attacks and decays on most of the notes, plus some poignant piano reminiscent of (who else) Harold Budd. The timbres and harmonies are subtle and inspiring. It's just that it's no different from all the rest of this kind of ambient music! Much as I adore this music, it's just not sufficiently different from what has gone before for me to be able to recommend it.
VGO 001 Gregorian George: In and Outside the Aluminium Box
VGO 002 Gregorian George: In Phaze Shift Reality
VGO 003 Gregorian George: The Aluminium Bible
VGO 006 X Ray Pop: Zazzy Music
VGO 008 Gregorian George: Aluminium Jungle
VGO 010 Usward: Dimension 12 Manifestations
VGO 011 Gregorian George: Surreal Dreams Purge Nihilist Nightmares
VGO 012 Plastic Eye Miracle: Tunnel O'Spirits & The Bill Jones Show: Where's Ghoulardi?(C) Brian Duguid