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Stefan Goldmann/Leif Elggren/The Tongues of Mount Meru/Autodigest

While still a fairly new label, London’s The Tapeworm has quickly established itself as one of the most prominent and unique exponents of the underground’s current cassette renaissance.  Obviously, much of the credit for this is due to the surprisingly well-known artists (Stephen O’Malley, Phillip Jeck, Geir Jenssen, etc.) that they’ve enlisted, but a significant part is also due to their bold attempt to bridge the oft-disparate worlds of high art and the DIY ethos.  This latest batch of tapes documents the collision of these two worlds with varying degrees of success.


The Tapeworm

The Tapeworm’s aesthetic is a fundamentally shaky one to build a label upon and one that is engineered to be dogged by inconsistency.  While other tape labels focus on releases from the more obscure fringes of noise/post-industrial culture, The Tapeworm’s decision to embrace more established artists creates a unique problem for them: someone like Stephen O’Malley is probably not going to release their best work in a limited edition of 100 or 250.  Fortunately, some artists (Stefan Goldmann, for example) are more than happy to release their more startling and adventurous experiments in such a fashion, and the format is perfect for enigmatic collaborations as well.   Consequently, the label’s oeuvre has been a strange and unpredictable one thus far and that is unlikely to change (and therein lies its charm).  Also, it takes some guts (and insanity) to try to market spoken-word tapes of Derek Jarman and Jean Baudrilliard in 2010 (a gamble that actually worked, incidentally).

 The most daring and unexpected of these four tapes is by German techno producer Stefan Goldman, whose Haven’t I Seen You Before is culled entirely from guitar improvisations.  By his own admission, Goldmann is not a particularly skilled guitarist.  However, he was inspired to attempt a guitar album long ago when he heard a story about a bass player from the Berlin Philharmonic that paid an engineer to edit hours of aimless improv into a coherent jazz album.  Relying on his own studio wizardry, Stefan finally got an opportunity to attempt a similar feat, cutting and looping his own noodlings into a very meditative and likable suite of avant-garde guitar sketches.

Sweden’s Lief Elggren (Sons of God) attempts a similarly left-field endeavor with his All Animals Are Saints, but does not fare nearly as well.  His tape consists of two pieces that combine spoken-word and music, both of which were taken from live performances.  The first is a reading of a story about the souls of plants, occasionally punctuated by interludes of crackling noise.  The flipside is a story about an organ that Swedenborg owned, followed by a very repetititive, wheezing organ performance.  Unfortunately, Elggren’s stories are somewhat dull and weirdly paced (a situation that is not helped by his dry, thickly accented delivery), and the music is far too sketch-like and one-dimensional to justify the lengthy build-up and contextualization.  The whole exercise seems very academic and sterile.

 The Tongues of Mount Meru, a collaboration between Thorns’ Jon Wesseltoft and Jazzkammer’s Lasse Marhaug, is much more in line with what other cassette labels are releasing.  Nevertheless, there is a certain degree of strangeness about The Delight of Assembly.  The duo play very sine wave-centric drone music, but it is surprisingly shrill and dissonant.  Also, it is quite static: just an endlessly quavering, clashing buzz with only very small-scale variations.  I managed to make it through the entire tape once, but it was a hugely annoying and headache-inducing endeavor.

 The last of these four tapes is also probably the best.  Autodigest’s A Compressed History Of Every Bootleg Ever Recorded gives exactly what it promises, but does so in a mesmerizing, ghostly way.  Tape hiss, crowd noise, screams, and distant badly recorded music are all smashed together into a roiling cascade of complex noise.  The second side of the tape initially loses some of that momentum, but soon evolves into a similarly twisted (though less aggressive) soundquake.  The anonymous members provide a very erudite theory behind their releases (this is actually their fourth installment) that references Baudrilliard’s theory of hyperconformism and explains that their music is created to provide “a space for the analysis and allegory of the catastrophic state of contemporary social and cultural structures.”  Usually such a mission statement is a harbinger of very, very bad music to come, but not this time- Autodigest manage to expertly balance their high-concept philosophical roots with an unexpected amount of humor and raw, visceral power.  That doesn’t happen very often, but it is a convergence that has found the perfect home.