A CLOSER LISTEN weekly #3
"Godspeed," new reviews, and an interview with Wobbly
Listeners! Time again for a bi-weekly Wednesday missive from your friends at ACL. As always, this is Joseph happily sharing the good news.
This installment we’ve got a summary of our recent reviews, an interview with Gregory Euclide from out of the archives, a new interview with Wobbly, some thoughts on that tape finally surfacing and other things, and, as always, our list of upcoming releases.
If our daily album reviews are any indication, 2022 is off to a particularly strong start. Just in the last week we’ve featured reviews of experimental music from Kenya, the rare appearance of a metal album on our site, a compilation from Friends and Friends / Chillhop Music, exciting new works of contemporary composition, and another (excellent) album of cicada field-recordings.
We’ve also got Isolarii, a collaboration between two of our longtime favorites, Corey Fuller and Richard Skelton. Richard found the music to be “lonely and yearning,” as the two artists coped with isolation, meditating on island books and trading files at a distance. Available as a limited-edition 10”, this is the most recent installment of Gregory Euclide’s THESIS project, and as such features stunning packaging. Back in 2017, I spoke with Euclide about the label and his own art and design practice.
Here’s an excerpt where he explains a bit about his process of producing the album covers:
I could not build 300 paintings for the covers of each album. I knew I wanted to design them from scratch. So, the sleeves and jackets are cut, etched, folded, glued and printed all in my studio. I wanted each work to be unique, so, I figured I had to work with modular elements. I made stencils from the artists graphics that I made for each artist on the project – took bits of the imagery and expanded on it and used those things to create the images. I really like the grainy look of the airbrush and the monochromatic feel of the image.
As far as how I work on a project… it really depends on the project. I do not subscribe to a one approach fits all kind of model. I’m really all over the place… Pouring resin on the land, making paper sculptures, building plastic landscapes for miniature worlds to be housed… finding garbage in the land and building on top of them… as well as just straight up painting and or drawing.
BEAUTIFUL ERRORS ~ AN INTERVIEW WITH WOBBLY
David Murrieta Flores recently had a chat with Jon Leidecker, aka Wobbly, and it’s honestly my favorite thing that’s appeared on ACL in a long time. Leidecker, as David writes,
has produced experimental electronic music since the 1980s, whether on his own or as part of San Francisco collective Negativland. His work has constantly questioned the relationships between musicians and their tools, composition and improvisation, as well as originality and appropriation. Since 2019, he has developed a project called Monitress, consisting of a piece for mobile devices designed to both listen and produce sounds, resulting in a collaboration between artist and machine. Across 7 albums, Wobbly has formulated variations of this piece through interrelated premises that result in new, yet familiar music every time, with different questions and references each.
Negativland’s music made a deep impression on me while I was in college in the ‘00s, a time of renewed debate over sampling, appropriation, intellectual property rights, and fair use stirred up by the spread of p2p file sharing and the vogue for “remix” culture. I caught Negativland co-founder Mark Hosler on a lecture tour in 2008, screening a film about the group [was it Craig Baldwin’s Sonic Outlaws?], and the group’s perspective on authenticity certainly informed my thinking on many of these issues, and my own use of found sound. Leidecker’s conversation with David is a must-read, and I was particularly drawn to Leidecker’s eloquent reflection on the interconnectedness of technology and culture.
ACL: What is it about technology that interests you? How does that relate to musical technology in particular?
W: Technology and culture aren’t separable. When composers take advantage of new technologies, the music often illustrates all the aspects of that technology, either metaphorically or literally. Drone instruments reenforce a continuous sense of time, keyboard instruments give harmonic freedom while standardizing tuning, orchestras demonstrate the hierarchical control of a conductor and a passive audience, record players replace home performance of music; new technologies create forms of music which are models of the societies they emerge from.
So, as electronic music instruments enable us new kinds of automation, we have to decide be careful about the kind of goals we’re choosing, because your relationship with your tools gets modeled straight into the music. If you’re using your machines to loop and imitate human playing, you’re modeling your own dependency on slave labor, if not a certain kind of isolation. Perhaps you’re following Kraftwerk’s lead and exploring man-machine music, though too many people seem to forget most of their best music was made with two human drummers. But machines can also do things humans aren’t good at doing, such as true random number generation, abstract pattern recognition across micro and macro-time scales, or microtunings hard to achieve on acoustic instruments. And once machines make new relationships audible, humans often learn how to play them after the fact; less than five years after drum and bass showed up, drummers learned it. Important information about the way a culture is changing always shows up in the music first.
all lights fucked on the hairy amp drooling. Long thought lost, Godspeed’s original demo tape, limited to just 33 copies, finally surfaced on February 4, 2022, after years of false reports. Eight years ago, a Redditor claimed to have found a copy in Moncton, New Brunswick only to vanish once attention got too hot. Moncton seemed like a plausibly random enough Canadian location for the rare tape to turn up, and indeed an early incarnation of the ensemble did play there around that time. [Plus, one of the song titles was known to be “Random Luvly Moncton Blue(s).”] But at a certain point, we just resigned ourselves to the fact that the tape was lost, and would likely remain so until the band wanted otherwise. At ACL, we even Rickrolled readers on April Fools day, I think during our very first year of publication.
And then one Friday morning the world wakes up to a Mega.nz link posted on 4chan’s /mu/ board. There was no mistaking it. That was Efrim singing alright. The record shortly appeared on YouTube, and by Valentine’s Day the band had posted a higher-quality rip to Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to the CJPME's campaign to provide medical oxygen to the Gaza Strip. The fact that it took about 20 years of intense interest for the tape to turn up is a remarkable in its own right. &yet…
Perhaps it would be better if it had remained lost. The last great mystery has been solved, and reality rarely lives up to the power our imagination. It’s hard to imagine any work from the last decade or so rising to this level of mystique. Then again, digital archives are nowhere near as permanent as many seem to think, as the infamous erasure of MySpace’s servers might demonstrate. Soundcloud is even less likely to endure. After all, even if the site doesn’t go under soon, what happens to those archives when we stop paying for pro accounts? Who knows what rare files might set future listeners hunting. Maybe we should just accept that some things will be lost to history. The origins of Bebop are famously obscure due to the musicians’ strike early 1940s, since no records document those formative years. Instead, in 1945, Bird explodes onto the archival record, fully-formed. Is this necessarily a bad thing? As fans and historians, of course we want to know it all. But perhaps the mystique is more powerful.
So first off, all lights fucked on the hairy amp drooling is not a Godspeed You Black Emperor! record. It’s a solo project by Efrim Menuck, the oft-presumed spokesperson of the collective, with some contributions from a few others. Menuck writes:
this was a retirement letter,
recorded spring/summer/fall summer of 1993.
all of it by efrim, and a little bass from mauro.
vocals on $13.13 by d.c., acoustic gtr. snippet and backwards hash by dan-o.
no relation to the band that followed.
There’s a lot here that is compelling in its own right. Some of the hallmarks of Godspeed’s sound can be identified throughout (hypnotic repetition, religious vocal samples, evocative titles), but surprisingly the tape evokes Silver Mt. Zion even more strongly, likely due to the fact that Efrim sings throughout the tape, and Godspeed vocals are famously confined to spoken word samples. SMZ evolved into a collective vocal group, but Efrim’s voice was a strong part of that band’s identity since at least the second record. But it’s not SMZ either. Is there something worthwhile in digging for the germs of ideas whose fruit we’ve already tasted?
But here I am picking over the music. Should we even be listening to this tape? In a conversation with Vish Khanna on the Kreative Kontrol podcast, recorded shortly after the tape leaked, Menuck states clearly that he doesn’t resent anyone listening, but underscores that there’s something fucked up about someone else deciding to make the private public. The context of recording a tape for your friends in 1993 is very detached from our present era, where the possibility of global circulation is taken for granted. Sure, Efrim admits, if he were 25 years younger making this record, he’d probably just slap it up on soundcloud. And that’s the point. It’s a fun, normal exercise in self-expression, not some holy grail. Godspeed’s message hasn’t changed very much over the decades. They aim to demystify, not to obscure. If you think they’re the kind of band that wants you to reify their castoffs, then you’ve not been listening very closely.
In opposition to the dominant expectation of easy access, Terre Thaemlitz (aka DJ Sprinkles) very rigorously outlines a defense of a minor culture, restricting the circulation of works within a proper context. Her approach is often misconstrued as authoritarian flexing of copyright, but in fact offers a much needed critique of the more insidious aspects of copyleft, particularly the way centralized corporate platforms—Youtube, Amazon, etc—are the ones to profit off of “the long tail.” Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit those arguments.
More importantly, leaking the tape does a disservice to the band, which is still actively releasing new music and touring. Because they bear the same name, the leak of this tape falsely inscribes Efrim as the band’s center, an assumption he’s pushed back against for decades. Many of the collective’s members have been a part of the band for 25 years, and it isn’t fair to their contributions to Godspeed that this solo tape should receive so much attention. They’ve recently announced rescheduled North American and European tour dates for their excellent 2021 LP, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! (see our top 20 of 2021), so go out and support if they’re headed your way.
RIP DAN GRAHAM
New York conceptual artist Dan Graham died on February 19th. Tim Hecker recently posted NTS MAY 2016 to soundcloud, a Love Streams era mix that features a lecture by Dan Graham mixed throughout.
Due to supply-chain issues, I’m still waiting on my copy of Dan Charnas’ much-lauded new book on the legendary producer J Dilla, but it’s been a rare joy to see so many people reading the same book at the same time. I can’t remember anything like it, and can’t wait to join in.
But speaking of Dilla, check out The Next Movement episode with guest Matteo Urella discussing the importance of Dilla’s magnum opus, Donuts. Each episode of the podcast begins with a discussion of the guest’s work, and then explores an album that the guest considers personally significant. I was first drawn to the podcast to hear interviews with artists like billy woods, ELUCID, and AKAI SOLO, but have since been jumping through the archives based on the albums up for discussion. In some ways I’ve enjoyed these episodes even more, as they offer windows into other aspects of the music business, from photography to graphic design. Urella has most recently put together Deep in the Dark with the Art, a book featuring interviews with the creators behind Wu-Tang Clan cover art, and a discussion of the importance of the art to each project. All of which I’m sure will be of interest to many of our readers. Check it out!
The Auris Apothecary label is back with three new anti-releases from UNHOLY TRIFORCE.
DJ Travella ~ Mr Mixondo (Nyege Nyege Tapes, 1 April)
Field Works ~ Stations (Temporary Residence Ltd., 1 April)
John Dikeman, Pat Thomas, John Edwards, Steve Noble ~ Volume 1 (577 Records, 1 April)
Lea Bertucci & Ben Vida ~ Murmurations (Cibachrome Editions, 1 April)
Regno Maggiore – Esasummà (FILM, 1 April)
Rumpistol ~ Isola (Raske Plader, 1 April)
Various Artists ~ Music for kō (Erased Tapes, 1 April)
Scanner ~ La Fenêtre Magique (Werra Forma, 4 April)
Bruno Duplant, Frederic Tentellier, Massimo Magee ~ 344 (Orbit577, 5 April)
Distant Fires Burning ~ Inperspectycon Vol. 2 (Audiobulb, 6 April)
Ken Ikeda, Massimo Magee, Eddie Prevost, Joshua Weitzel ~ Easter Monday Music (577 Records, 8 April)
Michael Scott Dawson ~ Music for Listening (We Are Busy Bodies, 8 April)
Post Moves ~ Heart Music (Where to Now?, 8 April)
Sontag Shogun x Lau Nau ~ Valo Siroutuu (Ricco/Beacon Sound, 8 April)
Swartz Et ~ Desert Meditations (8 April)
Taylor Barefoot ~ Distressed Signals (8 April)
Whatever the Weather ~ S/T (Ghostly International, 8 April)
Andrew Weathers ~ Sciatic Assemblage (Flaming Pines, 15 April)
Carmel Smickersgill ~ We Get What We Get & We Don’t Get Upset (PRAH, 15 April)
City of Dawn ~ As the Universe, So the Soul (Somewherecold, 15 April)
High Pulp ~ Pursuit of Ends (Anti-, 15 April)
Matthew Shipp, Chad Fowler ~ Old Stories (Mahakala Music, 15 April)
G Clef Fusion ~ QB1-OS (19 April)
James Heather ~ Invisible Forces (Ahead of Our Time, 22 April)
John the Silent ~ Mungo Sessions (Somewherecold, 22 April)
Jon Porras ~ Aroyo (Thrill Jockey, 22 April)
Ohyung ~ imagine naked! (NNA Tapes, 22 April)
Instruments of Happiness ~ Slow, Quiet Music in Search of Happiness (Redshift, 23 April)
KHOMPA ~ Perceive Reality (Monotreme, 29 April)
Lydian Dunbar ~ Blue Sleep (Room40, 29 April)
TONED ~ S/T (6 May)
Matmos ~ Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer (Thrill Jockey, 20 May)
Black Sky Giant ~ Falling Mothership (Made of Stone, 30 July)