by Daevid Brock
Various Artists – Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
This 2-LP set compiles American artists who saw opportunity in the proliferation of affordable recording equipment, synthesizers, and drum machines, to create impressive and wonderfully eccentric soul/funk/disco. These artists were not ‘homemade’ in the cassette culture networking sense. They released vinyl singles and LPs on their own homegrown or tiny regional labels, sought wider distribution, acclaim, and most likely record company attention. Nevertheless, this is a fun compilation that is chock full of cool and strange songs and is brimming with homemade charm. Here is a tour of the set. Oh yes, there will be drum machines…
Remember those old Wurlitzer stores in the malls with the cheesiest sounding music? Jeff Phelps’ ‘Excerpts From Autumn’ instrumental sounds like one of the demonstrators from those stores, but someone who really knows how to use it and takes it into soulful space. Phelps gets a second entry with ‘Super Lady’, which uses the same instrumentation, though it’s more intricately arranged and includes vocals.
Guitar Red’s ‘Disco From A Space Show’ is propelled by a tap-tap-tap-tap metronomic beat, wildly swirling synth lines, and a cool grooving space-soul vibe.
Jerry (J.G.) Green’s ‘I Finally Found The Love I Need’ sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom, and is characteristic of some of the 70s most almost-hit pop-soul tunes.
The lyrics on Key & Cleary’s ‘A Man’ is brimming with Black/civic pride, has a beautiful rhythm guitar pulse and fidgety electronic drums.
I love the darkly tense but cool grooving vibe and crafty use of dissonance and effects on Spontaneous Overthrow’s ‘All About Money’.
Cotillion’s ‘If You Give A Dance’ is pure soul for the disco dancefloor. Think K.C. and the Sunshine Band for the Motown crowd.
USAries’ ‘Are You Ready To Come? (With Me) Pt. 1 (and later in the set Pt. 2)’ is Sex-eeeeeee! It lays down a lazy strolling funk-blues vibe, sounding like The Temptations singing to the Shaft theme. Really good vocals and harmonies on this one.
Johnnie Walker was one half of the duo that comprised USAries, and his ‘Love Vibrator’ is a bouncy funk- soul instrumental. (With a title like ‘Love Vibrator’, I’m surprised there were no lyrics.)
‘Don’t Challenge Me’ by Makers is passionately sensual, with excellent vocals and carried along by a cheesy drum machine beat and Casio-ish keys. Regardless, the arrangements and sound are pretty darn good.
T. Dyson and Company’s ‘It’s All Over’ is a great mixture of disco and soul, with a cool variety of synths and keys, and more really good vocals and lyrics. I love the combination of spacey synths and jazzy ivory tickling keys.
Starship Commander Woo Woo’s entry is ‘Master Ship (excerpt)’, and the music is just as freaked out as the band name and song title. The orchestral keys are from the most celestial regions of space and the song is colored by effects galore. This is an oddball entry on this set, being more 80s space-age, experimental synth-pop than funk/soul/disco.
Deborah Washington & the Astros’ ‘Shortest Lady’ relies heavily on its mundane drum machine, but everything else about it is strangely interesting. The female lead vocals are saucy, the male backing growls are creepy, there’s a spacey edge to the song, and I love the over-the-top cheesy funk pulse.
Steve Elliott’s ‘One More Time’ is a fairly straightforward 70s styled sexy soul love song. It’s a got a nice flute solo, good lead and backing vocal arrangements, and spacey synths.
The New Year’s ‘My Bleeding Wound’ is one of the most cool and strange experimental tracks of the set. The music is dominated by a repetitive stinging guitar pattern, later joined by a minimal bass riff. And leading the way are outrageously spaced out James Brown-ish vocals.
Otis G. Johnson’s ‘Time To Go Home’ sounds like it was recorded with a shoebox cassette recorder, but it’s a beautifully heartfelt religious song with a nice melody.
Personal Space was released in 2012 by Chocolate Industries. I couldn’t find any info on the label but it was distributed by The Numero Group, who have been releasing/distributing the most esoteric of reissues/compilations for years. The songs on this set are all over YouTube.
by Rafael González
Thanks to Hal McGee I have had the privilege of hearing a preview of "Selected Sound Works (1981-2021)" by Joseph Nechvatal, which is released in cassette format by Pentiments Records and also available digitally on the label's Bandcamp page.
What did I find in "Selected Sound Works (1981-2021)"? Something really very inspiring and very precious to me!
Joseph Nechvatal is an American artist known among other things for being the co-founder, in 1983, of the avant-garde electronic art music audio project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. I greatly regret having never previously heard any of his sound works because of the enormous surprise and pleasure that I have experienced after listening to his sound creations contained in this wide-ranging collection, which includes complete pieces and excerpts of works from the 80's to the present time: live radio mixes, musique concrète, synthesizer and guitar noiseworks, plunderphonics and cut-ups, excerpts from cassette releases, simulated audio viral attacks, tape and computer manipulations, radio plays, and much more.
Many of the readers and friends of Electronic Cottage tend to nostalgia for cassettes, analog instruments and other old gadgets. At least this is my tendency sometimes because all of those lovely things of the past are still very funny and they provide beautiful aesthetic experiences. Listening to Nechvatal's recent works contained in this collection I have had the same pleasure and enjoyment as I might have felt in the 80's or 90's, and listening to his works of those earlier times gave me the feeling that they could have been made yesterday. Because the theme, the substrate remains today. Perhaps the very good remastering of the old pieces has helped to get this feeling, but I haven't had the feeling of listening to a relic. Now all that flow of pop music, noise, news, interference and announcements reaches us via digital, in much greater quantity, it is true, but it doesn't make much difference. If in his early works he used tapes, vinyl, radio and guitars… and in more recent times he uses software, digital information and computer viruses, the conceptual idea underlying the tracks compiled in this release is the same, in my opinion.
It is also very interesting to pay good attention to Joseph Nechvatal's visual works, since they keep a strong interrelation with his sound production, as we can also perceive in the cover of the release of which I am making this small review.
The best summary I can give of what you will hear on this cassette or in its digital edition is … Warning to lovers of cut-ups, no wave, sound collages, musique concrète, radio art, sound poetry and digital noise... you're going to love this release!
by Daevid Brock
rADio eND is the work of Ed End, an artist who is new to me, but comes by way of my old friend Charles Rice Goff III, home recording veteran and ship commander of the Taped Rugs Productions label. For Salvator Salvandus, Charles took Ed’s source material and modified it, blended in his own original recordings, plus assorted mutational fun.
‘Salvator Salvandus Alpha’ opens the set with spacey swirls, heavenly washes, and cascading bell/chime effects, all propelled by a rickety washboard kind of rhythm. In the last couple minutes, the rhythm recedes, and we float to the finale on waves of high-octane space-scapes and a jaunty cosmic toy piano sounding beat.
‘Inner Transmission’ is next and…. really interesting rhythmic work on this album. There’s a strange kind of electronic ‘drumming’ and wavering drone pulse that drives the action, and it’s surrounded by a succession of intensely delirious, spaced out sound waves. In the last minutes there’s a thematic shift as we come in for a landing with a brief angelic chorus, followed by a multi-layered glom of electronic space rocking, hippety-hoppety vibes.
‘Etheric Body’ sounds like a blend of cosmic choir, SETI alien transmissions, throbbing martial beats, and battalions of insect saucers revving their engines. Later in the track things quiet and a voice says…. “The squirrel’s granary is full!” (At least that’s what it sounds like??), and we’re now buzzing around in an eerily ambient yet head-spinning spiral of sound.
I like the combination of clattering bells and machine-like soundscape waves that open ‘Aether Particles’, before settling into a gently intense, ambient roar (with an electrode charged robot voice interlude). At nearly 12 minutes the piece gradually evolves, including traces of Berlin school electronica, various interestingly concocted rhythmic bits, garbles of voice samples, and much more.
‘luva Te, luvabit Te Caelum’ is a grinding and clattering rhythmic rant, the harsh vibe offset by playful horns, effects and voice samples.
Finally, the 10+ minute ‘Salvator Salvandus Omega’ closes the set in deep meditative space, sailing through a cosmos inhabited by spectral beings, alien transmissions, whimsical melodies, and colored throughout by a parade of freaky effects.
I’ve probably listened to this gem a half dozen already. LOTS to discover and digest over repeated listens!
Free download with detailed album notes
Contact through, but also spend time at the Taped Rugs Productions web site
For an index of nearly 300 original audio recordings available at the Internet Archive, produced by or co-produced by Taped Rugs Productions, go here:
by Hal McGee
As part of our ongoing exchange of art items through the postal mail, Heather Chessman and Roger Smith sent to me a CD copy of their recent release on the Besperech`label (Russia), Deep as a depthless pond. JUICE MACHINE break out into new territory on this release, foregrounding field recordings of natural sounds, with their minimal electronics serving as a backdrop. I was a little surprised by this strategy, but it works well and the results are pleasing. There are no doubt hundreds of albums that utilize a similar approach, but this kept my attention throughout its three tracks totaling 64 minutes. I found this audio art to be as suitable for active, attentive listening as for letting it melt into the background as I did chores and straightened up my apartment. The electronics and natural sounds blend together so well that it is difficult to tell the difference. Some of this does get very intense, and I love all of the details that keep my mind busy. It sounds GREAT on headphones!
I really do not want to say much more, because my job as a reviewer is to point you toward recordings that I find interesting that you might find interesting too. You should listen to Deep as a depthless pond yourself and make it an experience of your own, and you can do so on the Besperech`page on Bandcamp, as well as purchase a download. You can also order a copy of the gorgeous four-panel digipak CD for €10. I love the look of my copy so much that I affixed it to my mail art wall along with all of the other awesome visual art that I have received in recent months.
Please also visit Heather and Roger's JUICE MACHINE page on Bandcamp where you will find 37 of their albums of no-input feedback and minimal electronics. They have a new release, charnel ground, which is available as a C-90 cassette and download. It's all about audio adventure and going places with the sounds.
As I followed many of these labels I would often take a chance on some of these new offerings that were perhaps outside my musical vocabulary. One of those releases I recall quite well was Soft Punk by John Wiese on Troubleman Unlimited (a label I knew for releasing albums from emo mainstays Rye Coalition to mathy hardcore by Hal Al Shedad). It was very foreign to me and most likely irritating upon first listen, but I returned to it years later and now have a great affection for the album (easily in my top 5 noise records). Since rediscovering that album I’ve been a follower of John Wiese’s. That said, his noisecore project Sissy Spacek is one that I have less familiarity with. Not that is dislike the work, but sometimes you get so overloaded with music to listen to that bands on your “list” (yes, don’t we all have lists) fall by the wayside.
Recently, Wiese contacted me wanting to hook up a trade for a Cheek Biting/Haters split tape I released. Of course I was game. I requested a more recent release by Sissy Spacek, because the only release I owned of theirs was Scissors which was released early 2000’s. He obliged and days later I had a package containing Sissy Spacek’s Blear C30 on Tape Room Recordings (I’m assuming Wiese’s own imprint since they predominantly release Sissy Spacek recordings) and a bunch of postcards. The postcards were of the promotional variety, but still a neat bonus to receive.
The tape opens with “Things Take Time” and right out the gate we are greeted to a mass of blown out instrumentation. It’s a cacophonous mess of noisecore goodness. There’s really no need to dissect what’s being played or what instruments are used. All you need to know is that it’s a big garbled mess and I mean that in the best possible way.
Next up we have “Gang Reduction”. A departure from the opening blur-core chaos, this track features lots of junk metal clang, bang and destruction. I also hear the sounds of shattering glass and other debris crashing in a seemingly unending downpour. Truth be told, I love shit like this. I once recorded 20 minutes of crushing glass inside of a metal ammo container and It was probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever recorded. This is right up my alley.
“Up a Tree” offers a more subtle take on the previous track. There’s lots of minimal rumbles, digital artifacts and some weird random sounds. I notice some manipulated junk metal rumbles, along with elongated animal sounding growls. My mind conjures images of an enormous steampunk robot moving and barreling forward. I hear the sounds of shifting metal, a reverberating hull, grinding gears….all moving at a glacial pace. Of course, I just watched Ninja Batman last night which takes place in feudal Japan and features a bunch of castles transforming into gigantic hulking robots, so that could be influencing my take on these sounds.
On to side B…
The opening track “Garbage Matte” sounds like a continuation of the final track on side A, which is great because I’m loving this stuff. Footsteps, scraping metal, with some ambient dread in the background. It could very well be field recordings of an active construction site. I guess this could be categorized as musique concrète, but I’m terrible with labeling sounds. Supposedly there is a second track on this side called “Tear Go By”, but I hardly noticed it. That’s not a criticism. I guess the first track segued so well into the next (being a similar sounding) that I didn’t recognize it as another track. That said, I really enjoyed the sounds so I’m not disappointed in the slightest that there isn’t a clear line of demarcation between the pieces.
I completely loved this tape through and through. I haven’t heard enough of Sissy Spacek’s back catalog to comment if this is what they typically sound like. I was half expecting this to be wall to wall blur-core, which I would’ve been fine with, but I also appreciate having my expectations dashed. That said I expect to be investigating more of their back catalog post haste.
Various Artists – “Le-Ultra Live Series Vol. One”
(Liquid Electric Recordings 2018, Cassette)
Review by Jerry Kranitz
The Le-Ultra Live Series Vol. One compilation was recorded live on various dates in Columbus, Ohio from 2014-2018. We’ve got contributions from eight bands, there’s zero contact information, it has some of the shittiest bootleg sound quality I’ve ever heard, and I like it so much I’ve listened to it about a half dozen times so far.
Blood Noize is the only band on the comp I was already familiar with. They get the most space with five tracks, featuring their gutbucket brand of raunchy punk-metal punctuated by oddball pulses and tones. This is pretty thrashy but elusively complex stuff, with interesting rhythmic gymnastics and the guitar
engaging in noisy yet sound exploratory fun. Seriously intense stuff. They’ve got several releases available on their Bandcamp page.
The Unholy Two are a standout, with both their contributions cranking out brain crushing, punk-noise- psychedelic rock. On their first song (“OKC1995”) they lay down a minimalist assault on the senses noise rocking groove and color it with screechy wailing acid mind-fucked freakout guitars. And the second
(“Untitled”) track is similar and a good example of seriously art damaged your-brain- on-drugs psychedelia.
American Jobs are one of my favorites of the set, with both their songs characterized by a punk- industrial-goth- jazz flavor. They’ve got a damn good expressive singer and a cool eerie lounge jazz vibe. Check out their Bandcamp page.
Pink Reason is another highlight, playing good old nasty garage punk with bits of the Stooges and dashes of NY Dolls. Lots of fun noisy thrashy psychy rock ‘n’ roll with damn cool guitars across their three songs.
Gamma World has a powerful Joy Division edge on their songs “Something Hidden” and “Detergent Suicide”. “Chemtrails” is similar but adds a fun rocking punk-a-billy feel with an off-kilter dancefloor rhythmic pulse.
Will Foster is two guys exchanging a spoken word rant titled “Judgement Day”. I hear a sax in the background which may or may not be backing these loons.
Giant Claw is another one of my favorites and the most stylistically different artist in the set. It’s the solo project of Columbus based Keith Rankin. His sole track is a very interesting and varied electronic percussion driven workout with lo-fi proggy keys. LOTS of music on his Bandcamp page which I’ll be exploring further.
Torgo’s contribution is a clever finale to this cool compilation. Titled “Excerpt/Decay”, it begins with barely ten seconds of noise-thrash, which may be the end of a song (presumably the “Excerpt”), followed by a fading screech-fest that must be the “Decay”.
I bought this cassette at my favorite local Columbus record store, Lost Weekend Records. Googling the title and Liquid Electric Recordings labeled revealed nothing other than a discogs.com entry. I went back to the store and asked the owner about it and was told the guy (Chuck Fuck) just drops off cassettes from time to time. I bought the last two copies he had so email me if anyone is intrigued and wants to trade.
Review by Hal Harmon
Another week and another new zine finds its way to my mailbox. In my last review, for Raw Analog, I professed my deep affection for music photo zines. This week that love affair is reaffirmed by another photo zine to satisfy my sweet tooth. Low Level Input by Shea Hardacre presents 20 pages of black & white photography from shows around Chicago. Unsurprisingly, the zine is published by No Coast No Hope, one of the premiere labels documenting harsh noise and scum electronics in and around the Midwest. NCNH started out as a tape label, releasing Hardacre’s own power electronics project Clotting, but has increasingly gotten more into zine publication. On display in Low Level Input are some of the heavy-hitters of the genre, including: Richard Ramirez, Gnawed, The Rita, Developer, Deterge, Plague Mother and many other sonic filth peddlers.
The publisher notes the minimal effort put toward design and composition, but I think it is a fine effort all around. Many of the photos lack staging or are cloaked in shadows, but I never felt that it detracted from the energy of the performers or the copious amounts of gear porn on display. Adding to the lo-fi flavor is the fact that the photography was all taken using a disposable camera. The final page has each artist listed in order of appearance. Copies are still available along with other artistic endeavors from Hardacre at No Coast No Hope.
Review by Jim Barker
Rather than write about something I already knew about, I chose this randomly from the Internet Archive, after searching for 'DIY' 'cassette'. I'd not heard of Bat Lenny or Limpid Green before, but now I'm glad I have.
According to the cover, these tracks were recorded between 1977 and 1990, and the cassette was originally released in 1991. Although that's a good while ago, the sound quality on this release is excellent. There are 10 non-chronological tracks, all very entertaining, eclectic and competently delivered.
The approach and sound are quite typical of the more musical end of the mid-to-late 80s, 4-track, electronic home-taping scene. All tracks have a spoken word element, which isn't always wildly successful, but luckily doesn't take itself too seriously. To me, the tone of voice indicated that this was intended as a fun experiment, rather than an exercise in “important art”.
This makes the whole thing quite relaxing; the mix of old school drum machines, synths, reverby guitar and easily-understood voice, offering up a nicely dream-like but non-threatening mix of what you might call 'DIY electronic easy listening', if that isn't too much of a contradiction. It's a bit queasy, but to people who listen to this kind of thing a lot, it's pretty cozy.
'A Dark Room' is a good example. The martial throbbing of the synth, along with the dream-story spoken word, and what sounds like live percussion, combine to give a warm sound with an edge, a very light edge, of menace.
Some tracks, like 'Follow the Road of Steel' or 'Alien Voices' throw in a bit of voice distortion which ups the spooky level a little, but it's certainly not Whitehouse.
'Alien Voices' sounds a bit like a phone conference between various Doctor Who villains. There's also a short track called 'Buzzards', which is very quirky and candidly amusing.
I'm aware that some of this might come across as a criticism: "oh these guys don't scare me! I'm made of sterner stuff", but the fact is that I really like the 'lighter side' of DIY music, and usually prefer it to the angry 'made-to-offend' stuff. It makes a change to not have to keep turning the stereo down, and hope for a bit more structure. So often listening to DIY electronic music can seem like an endurance test. Maybe I'm just getting old, as I don't welcome that as much as I used to. Either way. this is a nice album, and should easily bear repeated listens.
There are a number of other Bat Lenny releases on the Internet Archive, so those who dig this are set for more fun. The download comes complete with a PDF of the J-card that you can print it out if you choose to dub the music to cassette, for the full experience. A nice touch.
I have always had a deep affection for music photo zines. To get a glimpse of shows and performers I never got to see in the flesh is always a treat. Or if I had been fortunate to experience the live show, it's great to go back and revel in the nostalgia. To see the looks of excitement, contemplation, and sometimes horror on the faces in the crowd are priceless. Photos don't even have to be very good for me to appreciate that someone took the time to step back and document a moment in time and, in best cases, create a lasting piece of history of the scene.
Keeping with that long tradition of music photo zines is Andrea Knight’s Raw Analog. Published by one of my favorite record labels, Popnihil, Raw Analog is perhaps one of the best photo zines I have seen in recent memory documenting the outsider music scene. It’s all full-color and captures many bands and solo artists who have performed around the state of Florida. There's plenty of blood, sweat, grime, and tables full of electronics on display. Truth be told, I don't know who the majority of the performers featured are and no photos are labeled to give me any insight. While I thought I might find that bothersome at first, the anonymity of the photos actually make them as much about capturing the zeitgeist as they do highlighting the individual performers. It's a real high quality effort through and through. You can tell this was a labor of love and not cheap to assemble.
Popnihil still has some listed on their site, so don't miss out.
Grip some tapes while you are at it.
REVIEW by Hal Harmon
More than just an example of blatant nepotism, I have to express my pleasure in this beautiful new recording by Christina Vantzou and my son, John Also Bennett. It consists of a sounding or interpretation of a visual work, a drawing by Zin Taylor on the walls of a gallery. Unlike Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which is a suite of pieces, Vantzou and Bennett's work is a single long piece, (though several tracks are listed), evolving through numerous changes. It owes something to ambient music, but is much more developed and meaty than most such work, perhaps due to its grounding in a large visual artwork. The music involves the use of electronics, flute, and piano, and is, amazingly, a recording of a single live collaborative performance, a performance which fully engages one's attention, and rewards repeated listenings.
This work is a prime example of the interconnectivity and collaborative nature of the arts; for example, the fact that much sound poetry derives from asemic or visual poetry texts, which are sounded or performed as if they were scores, a practice much engaged in today in avant-garde literary, Fluxus, and performance venues today.
“Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface” is a beautifully produced high-quality LP with a large fold-out print of the art on which the performance is based, and ample textual discussions on the inner sleeve. Don't pass this one up!
John M. Bennett
Luna Bisonte Prods