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Chop Shop, "Oxide"

cover imageThe inevitable fallibility of magnetic media can, while being frustrating as all hell to an artist, provide the impetus for an even better creation.  Oxide represents such a creative disaster: old cassettes and reels of tape had been accidentally subjected to moisture damage. Instead of tossing them, Scott Konzelmann strung them up and pulled what he could off of the decaying tape and built this new work out of the remnants in his first full length release in quite awhile.

 

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The structure of the single 49 minute track alone is a metaphor for the fickle nature of magnetic tape:  it has a very cut & paste quality, but without the per-sample perfection of digital audio editing tools.  Instead, it feels raw and unpolished, like art based on rotting audiotape should.  The rough structure is only amplified by the actual sounds that lie within it.  Sonically it is a rather noisy work, sounds resembling machinery rattles, amplified sandpaper, abrasive textures, etc. 

It is jarring at times, listening to what may simply be amplified and processed tape hiss requires careful attention to hear subtleties before the listener is slapped in the face by a raw blast of pure audio sludge.  From the sound of things, it doesn't sound like a great deal of processing was used to the original raw material, since it sill retains such an unaffected, analog quality.  The original sounds were based around Konzelmann’s traditional approach to music: utilizing various junkyard sonic installations to create a veritable Sanford and Son noise orchestra.  However, the decay of tape makes this less relevant but doesn't hamper the artistic quality of the work.

The actual sound of decay that is presented here is by far its strongest asset:  the listener can practically hear the creases in the tape, pieces of magnetic oxide that may have flaked off due to environmental damage, mold blocking the tape heads, etc.  Often, the minimal nature of the damage is fascinating:  the sub-bass hum and crackle at around the 17 minute mark are among the most compelling audio textures I've heard in material like this.  The parts that are more dissonant rank up there with the best of the analog noise kings, before folks like Merzbow traded in their junk gear for Powerbooks.

The overarching analog sound of this work is what makes it stand on its own amongst its peers.  No matter how complex one can make a Max/MSP patch, or how many modules one can load into Reaktor, getting textures and sounds like are found here simply isn't the same.  Perhaps the most adept artists could model sounds like this, but I'm skeptical that it would retain the same warmth and fascinating microcosmic worlds that are here.  An abstract, occasionally violent, but undeniably amazing collection of accidental textures and sounds. 

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Review of the Day

Greg Davis, "Curling Pond Woods"
Carpark
There's a level of innocence and melodic clarity present on this disc that makes me wonder why it hasn't received more recognition. Then the determining factor hits me: this is too sweet, almost comical in its lazy strolling. Greg Davis obviously has an ear for gorgeous sounds an the ability to craft elegant stretches of sound, but unfortuneately it seems as if he doesn't have the ability to create a coherent record. All the instrumentation is from traditional (i.e., non-electronic) sources and then warped and rearranged in various manners by way of laptop. The heart of each instrument is present in the mix so each instrument is readily identifiable; the sound of rain, birds singing, and other environmental sounds make their way behind the instruments and then... nothing. Almost all of these songs have absolutely no progression and if they do, it takes six minutes or so for any movement to happen. "Improved Dreaming" begins with the charming sounds of a toy music box chirping away above the sounds of a cartoonish galaxy full of twinkling stars and wisps of astral dust and then flows into the sound of woodwinds sighing out an exquisite melody... over and over and over again. The whole thing runs six minutes plus but it could've had a more stunning effect at perhaps half that length. One track wouldn't normally bug me so much, but there's so much excellent happening that it angers me at how dull it becomes because of repetition. And the problem is infectious. I could do without the singing, too. While the album might intentionally have a whimsical feeling, the vocals don't add to that, they simply sound cheesey and a bit out of place. Curling Pnd Woods has a lot of excellent spots, but those excellent spots wear off quickly. I recommend it in small doses; two tracks at a time is more than enough too keep the sweetness level low and the monotony at a minimum. These tracks could've captivated me had they been released as a series of EPs or singles.

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