Top Ten Noise Cassettes
hat I love about cassettes is that you never know what you’re going to get. While I have no disdain for CDRs, I can’t quite get past the fact that every single second of my listening experience has been predetermined either a person or machine somewhere; that every millisecond is exactly the same on every single version of whatever album I’m listening to. With this in mind, I present my top ten noise cassettes. Most are out of print, but the many of the artists have extensive discographies and no shortage of great albums.
10. Spastic Colon: Fecal Incontinence (Pinch-A-Loaf, 1996)
Despite the sketchy band name, less than tactful title and absolutely atrocious label name, this release is actually pretty fantastic. Merging 70’s ambience with a moderate amount of noise, this LA duo employed an aesthetic similar to fellow West Coast artists Solid Eye and Speculum Flight. Despite the shitty (horrible pun, I know) label name, Pinch-A-Loaf was known primarily for its high-end artistic packages and this was certainly no exception.
9. Humectant Interruption: Recycled Cassette (RRR, year unknown)
The recycled cassettes are a long-running series in which noise is dubbed over various otherwise-worthless tapes that are traded into the RRR used CD shop and then sold (with new artists name written in giant sharpie right over the old cover) as cheap alternative to high-end, limited edition tapes. My copy of this particular tape is copied over .38 Specials’ Strength in Numbers. Lo-fi, minimalist and primitive all at once, this tape continues to baffle me. It could be some heavy metal tapes slowed down to a ridiculous lull or it could be a tin can being pulled with a string. Maybe it’s both, layered.
8. Ashtray Navigations: Destalinisation (Labyrinth, year unknown)
Phil Todd, aka Ashtray Navigations, is probably best known to Stylus readers his LP on Siltbreeze way back when or his recent association with V/VM. The Navigations style usually built on chirps and drones to create a hazy whirlwind of ambient buzz, but here Todd comes out in full force. The A-side is still a bit mild, building on amplified violin & effects, but once the tape turns Todd goes all-out with a heavy-flanged, Japanese-inspired wall-of-noise. Still cohesive and recognizable as Ash. Nav. material, the approach of the piece is really unique for both Todd and noise, in general.
7. The Haters: Silent Shovels Smashing Sut (Noise, 1994)
This is the only item on the list that made it based purely on collectability. Older cassettes by the bigger names in noise aren’t exactly easy to come by, so while this may not be the finest Haters release, I am still exceptionally happy to have it. It was even given to me, so I didn’t have to pay a cent (or very, very many cents on eBay) for it. The actual recording is pretty much what title says, but it’s much better than it sounds. It also has a Haters discography, videography, and more written in both English and (what I assume is) Taiwanese. Very nice.
6. Bastard Noise/Hermit: Nature Is God (Recalcitrant Noise, 1996)
One of the things I like most about this split is that Bastard Noise present a collection of short works, whereas most artists simply fill tapes with side-long pieces. BN have some great titles too. Disneyland Values and A Flamethrower Is A Good Idea being both the titling and audio highlights. Nomadic noise artist Hermit (living in Canada at the time of this release, now based in either France or Eastern Europe somewhere) flows with the longer piece Return to the Bald Mountain, which is pretty fantastic, but not quite on par with BN’s intense work.
5. MSBR: Final Harsh Work #2 (Spite, 1998)
This originally came attached to one of those doggie toys made of a real pig’s snout. Pig’s snout is long-gone, but the tape is still boss. I was way into the title back in the day, but he beat it into the ground with subsequent Finals like #18 and #34, some of which used double irony in that they weren’t even harsh, but ambient and spacey. This one is indeed harsh though. Very much so. MSBR is slightly underrated among the Japanese noise masters. Damn shame. I think this tape wasn’t even originally mine; it just somehow found it’s way from my bandmate’s collection to mine.
4. Season of Discontent: Morbid and Strange Audio (Guage, 1998)
This was handed to me by the band members at an Assuck show in Cleveland and I fell in love immediately. I had just recently gotten into noise and this Akron quartet really had their stuff together. Light-sensitive oscillators, tape-loops, piles of analog effects: the brutal tracks all had a singular feel; and the darker, broodier moments were absolutely stunning. My favorite track is Untitled which features operatic vocals (actually performed by the female in the group, I think) over a piano sample and layers of flickering, skittish electronics. Everything on the tape is pretty structured and composed well, which makes for a great break in the wall-of-static approach employed by most their peers.
3. Thurston Moore/Beck/Tom Surgal: Kill Any/All Spin Personnel (Freedom From, 1999)
So one night Thurston convinces the world’s most famous loser to join him an improv set and the loser obliges. Apparently he also “improvises” by shoving a guitar up (or is it down?) his shirt and running around. The antics compliment the often-heard-elsewhere pairing of Moore and Surgal. This came out right around the first wave of Beck backlash (post-Mutations, pre-Midnight Vultures)and I was amazed at the irony of celebrity-bashing a guy who just put out a cassette-only release so ridiculously far under the hipster radar. There were quite a few completely unnecessary delays in getting this out- even after taking peoples cash for it - and it acted as a double-edged sword both boosting Freedom From’s popularity and killing a lot of the trust necessary to run a mail-order label. I’m just glad I actually got my copy.
2. Preakness/Amelia K. Emelin: Split (Evan’s Prosthetic Limb, 2000)
This is an odd pairing as the artists really have nothing in common besides their Pennsylvania residency and their friendship with label-owner Jake Lexso. Fortunately, that works to everyone’s advantage and really keeps things interesting. Preakness is the prepared guitar work a guy named Phil whose last name I can’t recall. That’s a damn shame too; he was a great guy. Amelia’s side is all tape manipulation of the very under appreciated drone-punk variety. Where Preakness is piercing and metallic, Amelia is relaxed and drawn-out. The sides are only 15 minutes each, so you get just the right serving of each. A brilliant lo-fi affair with the Preakness material all recorded direct to a single track and Ms. Emelin’s sampling all done on the ever-reliable four-track. Unfortunately, I don’t think either released anything besides this and both have probably given up on music all together. Sad.
1. KD: Untitled (Freedom From, 2001)
Though I’d been listening to experimental music for close to four years when this vague cassette marked just “KD” showed up in my P.O. Box, I am in no way embarrassed to admit that I had never heard any of Kevin Drumm’s solo work beforehand (I had merely encountered his duos and some group improv sessions). It doesn’t bother me because I honestly feel this is better than his previous material. This tape has the same effect on me that people say Perdition Plastics CDs first had on them. See, it’s really hard to top your first Drumm experience (though Sheer Hellish Miasma did come pretty close). This tape is the common ground where the prepared guitar work of his earlier releases merged with foreshadowing elements of his later synth/laptop work to create a dizzying melee of buzzing, gurgling, silence and scraping. Despite the fact that it is - like all Freedom From releases - quite hard to come by (I remember Panzner once asking me if it was real), I consider this one of the most essential Drumm recordings. Maybe one of the archivists will see to it that this gets proper major release one day.
By: Mike Shiflet
Published on: 2003-12-15