Sunday, June 17, 2012

more enigmatic transmissions from the void

Ron Anderson / Robert L. Pepper / David Tamura / Philippe Petit -- CLOSED ENCOUNTERS OF THE 4 MINDS [Public Eyesore]

Now this is a pretty mind-blowing meeting of minds: Philippe Petit, an avant-garde soundtrack artist who has previously collaborated with the likes of Lydia Lunch, Foetus, Eugene Robinson (Oxbow), Cosey Fanni Tutti, Graham Lewis (Wire), Scanner, Jarboe, and many more postmodern music legends; multi-instrumentalist Ron Anderson of The Molecules and PAK, a guy so cool (and so musically savvy) he once collaborated with epic prog-drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (YBO2, Ruins, Zeni Geva) as Ronruins; and Robert L. Pepper and David Tamura, both members of the avant-garde multimedia collective PAS. With a lineup like that, you know something interesting is going to happen… and sure enough, it does. Recorded live by Martin Bisi in November 2010, the eight untitled tracks here are a skull-frying stew of exotic sounds created with electric guitar, sax, turntables, electronics, analog synth, electric violin, and electric psalterion. As an ensemble, they sound like something you'd hear on John Zorn's Tzadik label (although they're nowhere near as frantic and demonically possessed as the sound Zorn himself favors); to say they're eclectic would be an enormous understatement. What's even more amazing than their kitchen-sink sound is how well it all works, especially for something created live and on the fly in one take. Even better, for an album made by an avant-garde collective, it's surprising just how accessible it is; this is an avant album even non-avant types can enjoy. Bonus points for all the whacked-out sci-fi noises that permeate the album. 

The Body -- S/T [At A Loss Recordings]

Fans of this band's previously released works who weren't so thrilled about their excursions into non-metal territory (vocal choirs, orchestras, nods to industrial and noise) will like this, the remixed and remastered reissue of the band's obscure first album, first released on Moganono Records in 2004. This is nothing more or less than seven tracks of slow, wasting doom marked by slo-mo martial drumming, dirge-like guitars tuned down and wrapped in barbed wire, and vocals that mostly appear as intermittent growling. The nearly nine-minute opening track "( )" sets the tone with a pounding death-march that lumbers along with implacable menace, growing louder and noisier as it progresses, ending with the guitar sound EQued to a harsh, tinny screech. "The City of the Magnificent Jewel" picks up the pace a bit and the vocals turn into high-pitched howling, but the dark guitar crunge remains the same and every bit as oppressive. There are nods to their interest in noise even at this early stage on tracks like "Culture Destroyer," but mainly their attack is rooted in slow, grinding riffs anchored by minimal drums present more to keep time than anything else. They do crib a motif from the likes of Eyehategod and Buzz.oven by throwing in a sample of what sounds suspiciously like Charles Manson ranting in "Failings," and a couple of tracks do feature actual vocals with lyrics, but for the most part this is a largely instrumental album whose music lives and dies by its simple but immensely heavy riffs and metronomic groove. Heaviness incarnate, perfect for crushing skulls.

Distant Trains -- TEEN LUST cs [Centipede Farm]

This took me by surprise, because I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that Centipede Farm was strictly a noise label, but aside from a bit o' the noise in the appropriately-titled "Intro," this is actually a collection of swell, catchy, lo-fi poptunes. The label and the band are both the work of Chuck Hoffman, who also plays bass in Fetal Pig, a band with an aesthetic easily as schizoid as anything here. Some of the songs -- especially "The Truth About Fire" -- are sort of like what Daniel Johnston might sound like if a) he weren't crazy b) could actually play c) wrote about things other superheroes and imaginary people. The noise angle also creeps in on tracks like "Effective Aperture" (probably my favorite track on the cassette) and the otherwise pretty instrumental "No Forests," and on the flip side, "Gray Metal" flirts with -- yes -- metal, driven by charmingly tinky drums and a fat distorto-bass sound that would be cool even if the riff accompanying the sound were useless (which it isn't). More surprises abound, not the least of which is "Exquisite Mass Grave," whose title leads you to expect more metal… and what you get is tinkly keyboards and a jaunty Latin rhythm guitar over sprightly bass lines going "boomp boomp boomp." Weird and wonderful, and tragically limited to only fifty copies. Fortunately for you, it's also available on Bandcamp.

Fear Factory -- THE INDUSTRIALIST [Candlelight]

I was never a particularly huge fan of Fear Factory, although the controversy and lawsuits associated with their recent resurrection (and the abrupt sacking of the two members displaced by Burton and Dino's return) have provided some passing entertainment, but at least this album actually sounds like Fear Factory; obviously the return of the band's original songwriting core has helped immensely in keeping the band focused and interesting. This time around they've whipped up a concept album about technology and science converging to create a mechanized entity known as the Industrialist, a sentient being who essentially wills himself into existence and begins plotting the downfall of the pitiful meat-based creatures who made his existence possible. How heavily that resonates with you is pretty much something you'll have to decide for yourself, but fans of the old-school version of the band will be happy to know that this is a very heavy, very punishing album. The dreaded keyboards are there, yes, but generally in the background, with hyperkinetic machine beats and thick slabs of thrash-influenced guitar right up front, along with the frantic stop 'n start rhythms that got everybody all hot and bothered about them in the first place. It's worth noting that they brought back former Front 242 guru Rhys Fulber to do the production; seeing as how Fulber was one of the biggest reasons for the sound of what remains their best-known (and probably best) album DEMANUFACTURE, he probably had a lot to do with keeping the band both focused and potent. If you liked that album, you'll almost certainly like this one; if you're the kind of metalhead who starts shitting peach pits at the mention of drum machines or techno rhythms, well, you probably weren't going to listen to this anyway, right?

Fetal Pig -- AUTOPIA lp [self-released]

I love this band's name so much that for days after the album arrived in my mailbox, I was wandering around muttering "Fetal Pig! Heheheheheh! FETAL PIG! Heheheheh!" until Alvin threatened to sharpen his claws on my face if I didn't stop. Turns out the album itself (and it is indeed a real-live honest-to-Ra 12" vinyl release) is just as catchy, the work of an Iowan trio weaned on catchy post-punk that sounds sort of like Shellac covering Joy Division. The power of their appealing sound lies in a driving rhythm section bracketing a twangy guitar sound that often creeps into the realm of noise rock, topped with a vocalist riding the ragged edge of angst while still remaining tuneful, all in service of songs built on the heavy repetition of nifty riffs. Songs like "Concerns" and "In Your Head" benefit heavily from the endless repetition of said nifty riffs, while songs like "The Dawning of Autopia" and "Meaningless" show off their ability to make pretty sounds out of spindly, interlocking guitar and bass lines. (It doesn't hurt that the latter song devolves into an awesome jam that does a swell job of approximating a psychotronic mind-meld of math rock and psych.) Even better, they conclude with lots of swirling, reverb-heavy noise guitar on "New Apostles," and the album is happily filler-free. Epic greatness; you should want. As an added bonus, just to make the package that much more enticing, they also throw in a printed card with liner notes, a large illustrated lyric sheet, an extremely cryptic comic book by Nathan Thraikill, a button, a sticker, and a download card.  

Rolf Julius -- RAINING [Western Vinyl]

If you're not down with minimal art or up to date on obscure composers toiling in the field first seeded by avant-garde composers like John Cage and Lamonte Young, then you've probably never heard of Berlin sound installation artist Rolf Julius. Nevertheless, he was a highly productive artist, producing more than twenty recorded releases between 1980 and his death in 2011, working in a niche he liked to call "small music" -- that is, music based on Cage's notion of sounds so small they can be disguised by their environment. His unorthodox approach to sound installations -- burying small speakers in flower pots, for instance -- was designed to create spaces in which subtle music, often tonal in nature, could hide within the framework of environmental sounds. Sounds of nature, including water and wind, were frequently an integral part of his sonic vision, and this album is no exception. The album's centerpiece, "Raining," is exactly that -- nearly 54 minutes of gently falling rain. Originally part of the 2007 installation "Drawing (Dot)," this lengthy piece takes on different dimensions when played on speakers of differing volume; it was originally played on small speakers in the context of the original installation, with the muted sound taking advantage of the recording's inherently static nature. Close listening, however, will reveal other things happening beneath the sound of falling rain and shaking trees -- quiet, almost imperceptible tones and sounds that might be generated by a treated piano, for instance -- and the mixture of natural and man-made sounds is so perfectly balanced that it is nearly impossible to hear the underlying music as a separate entity. 

The album's second performance, "Weitlachig," makes the distinction between the poles of natural and man-made sound a bit clearer; while the sound of rain is clearly prevalent again, this time the music -- a series of recurring tones and mildly percussive sounds -- is considerably more apparent, if every bit as static. (At just under sixteen minutes, it's also far more brief.) The final track, "Music For A Glimpse Inward," is practically a snippet by comparison at just 4:25, but that's plenty of time for it to develop the idea of quiet, still spaces through the use of almost inaudible sounds (more abstract tones and birds chittering in the distance) that segue into a protracted drone that announces itself suddenly, then drifts far, far into the background. The minimal use of sound here means that even the most subtle shifts in volume are unexpectedly dynamic.

To be sure, this is music for an extremely small and specialized audience, but that audience should find this highly illuminating. Fans of Bernhard Gunter, in particular, should find this work to be of extreme interest. Bonus points (lots of them) for the digipak's stellar photography and design, too.

Scott Kelly / Steve Von Till / Wino -- SONGS OF TOWNES VAN ZANDT [Neurot Recordings / My Proud Mountain]

These dudes all get eternal crippling bonus points for life not just for having the phenomenal taste to venerate one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the last fifty years, but for doing it right.  I'm really kind of surprised this kind of album hasn't happened before, though, because Van Zandt's morbid, apocalyptic songs are tailor-made for the doom genre. Van Zandt himself was an idiosyncratic genius from a wealthy family (Van Zandt County in Texas is named after one of his relatives) who abandoned the promise of wealth as a trust-fund baby to live as a singing outlaw poet, and his life was a hard and bumpy one, largely due to his obstinate insistence on living out the subjects of his songs so he could write them in a manner he felt appropriately authentic. His enthusiastic pursuit of a plethora of vices, not to mention a crippling alcohol problem, resulted in his early death at 52, and his complete indifference to anything not related to art or getting fucked up resulted in a career dominated by erratic performances, poor business decisions, and a murky publishing legacy that's still being straightened out in courtrooms more than a decade after his death. His total commitment to the outlaw life and his complete honesty in songwriting may not have been so helpful in the hours he didn't have a guitar in his hands -- he led a wretched and frequently miserable life resembling a long and excruciating series of train wrecks, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage in his wake -- but his willingness to be honest about that existence in his songs resulted in an amazing body of work. 

It speaks volumes about Van Zandt's appeal that a trio of metal dudes -- two from Neurosis, one from St. Vitus -- should be inspired to cover his tunes, but as I said earlier, Van Zandt's obsession with doomed outlaws like himself is tailor-made for a metal audience. What's gratifying about this project is their approach to the material: despite what you might think based on the pedigree of the players involved, this is a minimalist piece of work centered around finger-picked acoustic guitar rather than a metallic reinterpretation of the songs. There are some muted drones happening in the background from time to time, yes, but mostly this is a series of recordings of one man singing and playing guitar. Each player takes on three songs: Von Till performs "If I Needed You" (probably Van Zandt's best-known song next to "Pancho and Lefty"), "Black Crow Blues," and "The Snake Song"; Scott Kelly takes on "St. John the Gambler," "Lungs," and "Tecumseh Valley"; and Wino offers his morose take on "Rake," "Nothing," and "A Song For." The song selection itself is interesting, with one song each from the first three Van Zandt albums, two from the fourth, and one each from four later ones; with the exception of "If I Needed You" and "Tecumseh Valley," these are mostly deep cuts probably familiar to only the most hardcore Van Zandt devotees, and they all sound exceptional here. In fact, my only quibble with the selection is that I would have loved to hear Wino doing "The Hole," one of the most terrifying songs ever recorded (you can find it on NO DEEPER BLUE, one of Van Zandt's last studio recordings). Of course, if the album does well, that would be a perfect excuse to do a second one featuring that song and others just as deserving of your attention, hmmmm?

Linekraft -- BOURYOKU KIKAI [Malignant Records / Black Plague]

Listening to this is like tripping back in time to the mid-nineties, when various Japanese acts like MSBR, Dissecting Table,  and TETSUO soundtrack mastermind Chu Ishikawa were briefly obsessed with bridging the gap between industrial music and noise by beating on things and subjecting random sounds to various forms of grotesque electronic perversion. Based (well, maybe) in Tokyo, Masahiko Okubo employs junk metal, tapes, electronics, and processed vocals to create metallic tsunamis of sonic ugliness whose tone often invites comparisons to Dissecting Table, although Okubo doesn't share that band's rhythmic intensity. The album's sound is a real throwback to the early days of industrial music, more specifically toward a time when bands like Throbbing Gristle relied less on a battery of mass-market efx boxes and more on the relatively simple electronic processing of harsh organic sounds; there's an extremely physical, percussive element to most of what's happening here, and even the white noise content is generated more through the overly distorted use of tapes than the usual signal processing favored by noise bands. At times this sounds like grainy field recordings of buildings being systematically demolished by tanks, and there are places during the lengthy "Jinkaku Shougai" that sound like news audio of actual warfare. One of the more interesting tactics at work here is the use of distorted, processed vocals as a textural element, something that was far more prevalent in the early industrial realm than it is now. The album is noisy, sure, but the bleak pounding and machine-like hissing is designed less to immolate your ears than to evoke images of an urban landscape under extreme duress. One track ("Kenjyu Jisatsu") was recorded live, not that you would ever know if you hadn't been told. Excellent stuff made even more enticing by the digipak's morose black and white art featuring blighted urban landscapes begging for detonation. Essential listening and limited to 400 copies.

Lord Mantis -- PERVERTOR [Candlelight Records]

I was initially reluctant to review this simply because I figured there's no way the album can live up to the amazingly perverse cover art (which you can see here, if you're so inclined). But it's a good thing I finally broke down and listened to it, because I was wrong -- the band's music is every bit as perverse and obnoxious as their choice of cover art. Based in Chicago and including members of Von and Nachtmystium, the band's sound is -- at first glance -- a murky pit of ugliness mating the most extreme elements of death metal and sludge, but beneath the surface are some surprising nods to more atypical bands like Godflesh, Of Cabbages and Kings (check out that blinding circular saw solo on "Pervertor of the Will," which sounds like it's channeling the spirit of Carolyn Masters from that band's first EP), and Voivod, among others. Despite the progressive touches, the band's main reason for existence is to sound completely and utterly filthy; their guitar sound is so corrosive and the singer's bile so prominent that listening to this is like being kidnapped, bound in duct tape, and dragged face-down through a sewer full of rotting flesh. One of the things I really like about this album is the band's willingness -- nay, need -- to find a swell beat and grotesque riff, then beat it in to the ground, especially since they understand that the whole point of merciless repetition is to leave you completely unprepared when they abruptly shift gears into some new and unrelated motif. Their guitarist also does the best howling tornado sound since the aforementioned Carolyn Masters. (Speaking of which, anybody who digs this album would be well-advised to seek out the earliest releases by OCAK, which -- while not exactly metal -- nevertheless have a lot in common with this album's sound.) They're not the heaviest / fastest / rudest band of all time, but they certainly have a misanthropic vibe of which I heartily approve. Ugliness has rarely been so seductive.

Molting -- INSANITY cs [Centipede Farm]

Well,  you certainly can't accuse Molting of being careerist: aside from the one-man band's volcanic, anti-commercial sound, this release is limited to ten copies. I wouldn't be surprised if they're all gone by now. But the label sent me a review copy and so now I'm gonna tell you all about it, even though your chances of hearing it are real, real unlikely, because… because that's the way I roll, doom childe. DEAL. So anyway, what we have here is thirty minutes of insanely oppressive harsh white noise spread across two tracks. We're talking aggravated assault, audio style -- screechy noise hell, fizzy power electronic mayhem, grotesque displays of sonic ugliness, all changing and mutating at a pace that strongly suggests noisemaker Moe Lester (ha ha ha, dude) might have a real serious case of attention deficit disorder. I'll bet his neighbors are all plotting to kill him in his sleep. "May cause your eyeballs to vibrate uncontrollably," the label opines, and you know what? They're right. Listen to it loud enough, and you might have to change your underwear, too.

Northern Machine -- IN FRONT OF THE CROWD [HC3 Music]

This band's first live album (after six studio releases) is a pretty enigmatic collection of tracks rooted in ambient drone and cosmic electro-rock. The duo of Pat Gillis (also of TL0741) and Bill Warford use a variety of instruments, ordinary items put to irregular use, and plenty of sound processing to create highly-textured tracks rooted mainly in ambient sound and interstellar drone, leavened with plenty of peculiar blips and bloops and occasional bursts of outright noise. With the exception of "Hematonymic Procession" (which clocks in at over 24 minutes), these are mostly controlled slices of experimental sound ranging from three to six minutes each, apparently compiled between 2005 and 2009. Some of the tracks are audience recordings and others are from the soundboard, but the sound quality is consistently listenable throughout. The tracks proceed in chronological order, which offers a window into the band's progression as live performers. This is a duo who understand dynamics -- many of the tracks (especially the early ones) are relatively subdued and heavy on the ambient / drone tip, but as the album progresses, the tracks get heavier, denser, noisier, and more texturally complex. Some of the tracks (like "Son of Scorch") include percussive elements along with the swirly cosmic action, and the noise often comes in the form of what sounds like sizzling, distorted guitar, always a nice touch. Despite the experimental nature of things, the tracks don't wander; their compositions move and breathe in a structured way that calls to mind the early experimentation of prog-rock bands like (real early) Tangerine Dream and Can. Just… noisier and aimed at the heart of the universal drone. The final track, "Seconal Samba," is not only one of the most rhythmic pieces on the album, but is the sole studio offering, rescued from a 2006 session for a previous album.

Rent Romus' Lords of Outland with Vinny Golia -- EDGE OF DARK [Edgetone Records]

Recorded live on stage in San Francisco in the fall of 2010, this album consists of eight tracks composed by Romus and inspired by the writings of Frank Herbert (DUNE), Philip K. Dick, and H.P. Lovecraft. Accompanied by Vinny Golia on a variety of woodwind instruments (plus piccolo and mukhavina) and backed by the Lords of Outland (C.J. Borosque on trumpet and electronics, Ray Scheaffer on six-string electric bass, and Philip Everett on drums and percussion), this is actually kind of subdued compared to some other Romus albums. Don't get me wrong -- it's energetic and filled with surprising twists, but it's nowhere near as "out there" as you might expect (although the drumming is certainly free and unrestrained). It's interesting to note that Borosque's contribution here is heavier on the use of trumpet than electronics -- any time I see her name in the credits I automatically expect shredding noise action, but here the electronic frippery is very much in the background. What's very much upfront are the dueling bleat tools of Romus and Golia, working mainly in the murky borderland between the outer reaches of traditional jazz and the field of music considerably more free and unfettered -- for the most part they stay pretty close to the realm of standard (if adventurous) jazz sound, but when they start to cook, that's when they start spiraling off into the spaced-out regions of free jazz. Meanwhile, the players behind them create a textured sonic landscape that's interesting in its own right without distracting from the sound the frontmen are laying down. Thoughtful and sometimes even dreamlike, but never overbearing, their execution is sharp and the resulting sound evocative, holding true to the project's inspiration.

Sarcofago -- DECADE OF DECAY [Greyhaze Records / Cogumelo Records]

Now here's a reissue worth grabbing. The Brazilian band Sarcofago, formed in 1985, was one of the world's earliest death metal bands, and a huge influence on the first wave of black metal, but between their location and poor distribution of their albums, they never made it past cult status. Their monumental influence can be heard reverberating all through the first and second wave of black metal, though, and their hard-to-find albums are treasured finds to metalheads in the know. Which brings us to this album, originally released in 1995 in relative obscurity beyond their own country, and sought after for years by many. Now Greyhaze, which has become the official North American distributor for Cogumelo Records (who originally put out the album), has made this available once again, and death / black metal fans with any semblance of taste should weep with joy at the chance to own this. Here's what you get for your hard-earned dinero, doom childe: twenty tracks spanning the first decade of the band's recorded existence, including three tracks from the SATANIC LUST demo, two songs from the BLACK VOMIT demo, and two more from the CHRIST'S DEATH demo -- the first time all of these demo tracks have been officially available on a North American release. In addition, the album's first track, "The Lost of Innocence," is an unreleased (at the time) studio track that doesn't appear on any other album. As for the music itself, it's straight-up satanic death metal with a murky and malevolent atmosphere, heavy as hell and steeped in blasphemy. Even the pretty guitar part that opens "Midnight Queen" is soon crushed beneath the weight of titanic power chords and thumping drums, and the rest of the material (at least the tracks culled from the studio albums) features precise playing and intense heaviness. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries like Venom, Sodom, and Bathory -- other bands mining the same anti-religous musical vein -- this band could really play, and since this features the best tracks from their early albums, this does an excellent job of encapsulating the band's strengths (and makes the album an excellent primer for those unfamiliar with the band). The demo tracks sound pretty good too -- a bit murkier and primitive, maybe, but the band was tight even in their early stages and these tracks are clear and listenable enough to make them worth hearing, especially since (unlike a lot of releases with demo tracks tacked on) there's no overlap with the other album tracks. Every black / death metal devotee with a serious interest in the origins of the two genres should own this.

TL0741 -- HELD TO ACCOUNT [HC3 Music]

This is the living definition of enigmatic -- ten tracks of vaguely ambient sound, snatches of muted dissonance, and strange noises bleating around the edges. The third release by the esteemed tone scientist Pat Gillis (also of Northern Machines) is a series of textured soundscapes built on layers of drone, noise, glitch sounds, ominous rumbling, and other forms of sonic effluvia; the tracks drift by like movements in a soundtrack to a deep-space documentary, and the album's forward movement is determined not only by a wide variety of textures and tonal approaches, but also a keen ear for dynamics. The album's sound and its flowing nature remind me a lot of the early isolationist movement, especially the early work of Lull and Lustmord; it's hard to believe such dark and mysterious sounds can be generated with just some synths, efx, and a tape recorder. The tracks are a mix of live and studio recordings, although the nature of the sound makes it pretty much impossible to tell which tracks are which. Some of the more droning tracks like "Bossa" are in the cosmic drone territory currently being explored by Sky Burial, and Gillis shares Michael Page's compositional skills -- the sequencing of the tracks is key to everything here, providing the album with more structure than you might find immediately apparent. He also shares Page's affinity for spooky noises, which certainly doesn't hurt. Immerse yourself in the cloud nebula and let the mystic drones turn on switches in your skull you never even knew were there.

White Suns -- SINEWS [Load Records]

The poop sheet says they're from Brooklyn, but they sound more like the soundtrack to life in Hunt's Point, New York's ongoing monument to urban blight and human despair. Technically part of the same NYC pigfuck revivalist scene that spawned bands like Pop.1280 and Pygmy Shrews, it's hard to imagine them coming from anywhere else; their intensely ugly sound owes an obvious debt to other like-minded NYC bands like Swans, Sonic Youth, and Unsane, not to mention the entire No Wave movement. Here, though, they transcend all those influences to form a sound that's uniquely their own, distinguished mainly by disorienting segues from rock to pure noise, loose song structures that make it nearly impossible to predict what's coming next, and a suffocating wall of noise that swallows them whole even when they're playing actual music underneath the sonic death cloud. This is the sound of a band trying to play its way out of a body bag even as it's being stuffed into a crematorium furnace. It's pretty impressive that three guys can make so much racket; it's even more amazing that they can bring a fresh sound and perspective to the table after nearly four decades of bands mining this blighted sonic territory. Part of their monolithic sound derives from their talent for multi-tasking: drummer Dana Matthiessen and guitarist Rick Visser are also responsible for triggering various electronic detonation devices, and guitarist Kevin Barry has the unenviable task of howling like a butchered pig while making his tortured instrument emit various shades of radioactive waste. Barry's vocal delivery isn't quite as menacing as, say, Chris Spencer's, but he adds an edge of hopeless despair that's perfectly in sync with their oppressively bleak lyrics. Essential listening for those searching for a valid audio document of the impending apocalypse.

Peter J. Woods -- FEAR (3 x cs) [FTAM]

This is a pretty enigmatic release, but it comes in some powerfully compelling packaging: three pro-recorded cassettes in a hardshell case with a full-color image on the front and a triptych of related images inside, each one containing liner notes on the back. Of the six tracks represented here, five are the audio portion of previously staged theater works and one is a brand-new recording. The audio presentation is straight-up harsh noise mixed with long passages of silence and the occasional high-pitched test tone, arranged in such a way that the passages of blinding white noise often take you by surprise. Lengthy stretches of minimal sound (sometimes so minimal that you might wonder if the tape stopped running) abruptly explode into jagged waves of fearsome noise without warning, only to recede into nothingness again until the next unpredictable wave of sonic fury. Each cassette features one track per side, and while some tracks feature vocals and others don't, the business of rotating between minimal and extreme sounds remains largely the same throughout the album. The sounds vary as well, especially in the harsh segments, but the use of excruciating, high-pitched test tones remains a recurring feature. Most of this work is instrumental, with the notable exception of "Moment of Creation," featuring Joe Smith doing a creepy spoken word bit over a bed of throbbing noise muted into something approaching dark ambient music with a distorted edge (and the occasional blast of violent noise). It would be interesting to see the theatrical performances associated with these works, but the pieces work even divorced from their original context. Don't be intimidated by the number of cassettes, either -- these tracks are all relatively short, with each cassette side clocking in around ten minutes or under. (Well, the third cassette is a bit longer, but not excessively so….) It's all intriguing stuff, and worth owning just for the awesome packaging.