All kinds of experimental music can be found on Bandcamp: free jazz, avant-rock, dense noise, outer-limits electronics, deconstructed folk, abstract spoken word, and so much more. If an artist is trying something new with an established form or inventing a new one completely, there’s a good chance they’re doing it on Bandcamp. Each month, Marc Masters picks some of the best releases from across this wide, exploratory spectrum. April’s selection includes solo voice calisthenics, four-piece harmonium drones, active percussion improvisations, and the final chapter in a eight-year, 21-part series.
Under the name Tsembla, Finland’s Marja Ahti has made (mostly) electronic music that can feel hyperactive, capable of darting in many directions at once. Her first record under her given name, Vegetal Negatives, exudes a more restrained, deliberate atmosphere. Part of that comes from Ahti’s thoughtful use of field recordings, which widen the space in her music, giving it a three-dimensional feel. But even though you can sometimes identify her natural sources (washes of water, knocks on wood, etc.), here she creates more of an impressionistic internal landscape than an environmental document. During the airy, stillness-inducing “Rooftop Gardens” and the droning “Symbiogenesis,” Ahti seems to conduct the world, bending its organic shapes to her creative will.
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
The name of Autophonia’s first tape is a somewhat untranslatable phrase from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and some of the pieces do feel like they could soundtrack a dark, dystopian movie. The group’s swelling tones and dramatic arcs suggest both a solemn mediation and a foreboding narrative. Jennifer Slezak (mandolin and violin), Jen Powers (hammer dulcimer), and Stephanie Dean (accordion) improvised the whole tape in one session, injecting tension and spontaneity into their reverent music. The spectrum-filling “The Edges of Print” and the shimmering “Galgenhumor” both hypnotize and energize, creating moods of both struggle and awe. The trio’s ability to ride a collective wavelength is fascinating; while Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum couldn’t have been made by one person, at times it feels like Autophonia fused into one mind to create their brain-wave music.
Anxious Time of the Dying Sun
New York polymath Chuck Bettis has sung for numerous bands—including post-punkers All Scars and Measles Mumps Rubella—and used his voice as an instrument in many solo experiments and improvised collaborations. Yet Anxious Time of the Dying Sun is his first solo vocal record. Taken from his 2017 performance at a Brooklyn showcase called Deviant Voice (“a festival of extreme vocals”), this 19-minute piece rolls through seemingly all the different sounds and timbres that Bettis’s voice can make, yet it never feels just like a display or an exercise. Bettis’s growls, scrapes, and moans coalesce into an abstract sonic statement, one that seems to suggest that music is a living, breathing organism rather than static art to be hung on a wall. At points during Anxious Time of the Dying Sun it feels like Bettis’s voice has completely left his body. But it’s less like a ghost than an uncaged animal, running around in celebration of its newfound freedom.
Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond
Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond
Belgium-based musician Glen Steenkiste has often performed solo on harmonium, adding electronics and tapes to create layers—but for years he’s wanted to reach that same kind of layering with multiple harmoniums. So he created Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond (Intercity Harmonium League) with Brecht Ameel, David Edren, and Steve Marreyt (all of whom also live in Belgium, but each in a different city). Their first, self-titled album consists of two thick, heavy 17-minute drones. They’re layered for sure, but they aren’t just walls of sound. Voices move in and out, sometimes creating pockets and other times building mountains; tones stretch across the sonic spectrum while simultaneously unifying into harmonic wholes. As with the best drones, it’s hard to realize how far the group has traveled when you listen in real time, but jump from point to point and the territory Het Interstedelijk Harmoniumverbond cover is impressive.
For Eschrichtiidae (Omniana)
Other, Compact Disc (CD)
Eschrichtiidae is the technical term for the gray whale species; A.F. Jones dedicated his latest work to these giants of the sea, due to the underwater noise pollution they are frequently subjected to. The work itself presents such pollution unfiltered—Jones made it by continuously recording the sounds of a ferry approaching a dock in Port Townsend, Washington, simultaneously capturing lapping water, pylons hitting the dock, and other ambient events. Though Jones didn’t edit the recording, it does have a musical pulse, a subtle expression of the clock-tick regularity of nature. For Eschrichtiidae is also ripe with texture; at points it’s as if you can put your fingers directly on the sound. It’s an effective way to make a point about manmade sounds and the way they disrupt and stress sea life. As Jones puts it in his detailed notes, “Listen, enjoy—and advocate for robust undersea noise pollution policy.”
Muyassar Kurdi (Curator)
For her edition of an artist-curated compilation series on Idle Chatter, New York-based artist Muyassar Kurdi chose musicians from a diverse range of locales, including Morocco, Portugal, Japan, and the U.K. The unified vibe of the music they contribute to Reality Tunnels proves that experimental composition, even when informed by its environment, can transcend regional boundaries. Every artist here contributes pieces that are both abstract and tactile, often mixing sounds that feel simultaneously alien and intimate. Lucie Vitkova of the Czech Republic offers distant tones that evoke a ghost-filled chamber, Mexico’s Nima Ikki constructs a wordless hymn from sun-facing sounds, and Israel’s Meira Asher alternates harsh blasts of static with sparse pops and clicks. Kurdi herself closes out the comp in a duo with fellow American Ka Baird, vocalizing over the latter’s dramatic piano chords in a way that brings closure to this scintillating collection, and encourages hopes that Kurdi will concoct another someday.
This Is What I Do – Volume 21
Compact Disc (CD)
In 2011, Jason Lescalleet released This Is What I Do – Volume One, collecting work that, as he puts it, “would be difficult to source, or… would be otherwise unpublished.” He continued this “workbook” project—sometimes as a monthly series—for eight more years, and has decided that his 21st edition will be his last. As with much of Lescalleet’s work, it’s hard to summarize or describe exactly what he does in this series. His music is a kind of conceptual puzzle, mixing tones, drones, field recordings, and occasional samples. Often it feels narrative, but more like a dream than a story, with details that seem present but beyond reach. On Volume 21, the mood is generally subdued, with lots of echoing sounds and decaying noises, but tension is maintained throughout via Lescalleet’s unpredictable structures. He can be funny too: the final track, “The Party’s Over (Even Winter Relents),” begins with a sample of a police-raid skit from a Replacements song, melts into ’80s-sounding easy listening, then escalates to a blast of noise that feels like an actual raid. And that’s just the first two minutes. Mapping out Lescalleett’s work is part of the fun of listening, but ultimately This Is What I Do is compelling for its singular take on sound organization. It’s a sketchbook that Lescalleet made into a masterpiece.
It would be accurate to call Claire Rousay’s new tape Several Erasures minimalist—it uses lots of small sounds, spaces, and silences—but that would also sell it a bit short. Rousay is a busy player, using every inch of her drum kit to produce all manner of noises and textures, and Several Erasures seems less about absence of activity than abundance of ideas. Her ability to keep things clear and sparse while constantly pushing forward results in a sense that anything could happen at any moment, be it a pregnant pause or a percussive explosion. There’s also a lots of discovery on Several Erasures, as if Rousay is a sonic archaeologist, digging around to find musical clues in even the smallest and darkest crevices.
Compact Disc (CD)
Last year, Columbus-based musician Mike Shiflet released an ambitious 24-hour-long suite called Tetracosa, doled out in eight parts over eight months. His newest piece, 120 Minutes, is not nearly as massive, but it’s just as intriguing. Here Shiflet offers a single 20-minute piece that his notes suggest can also be heard as shorter works: 20 one-minute pieces, 10 two-minute pieces, and so on (he even includes a handwritten chart to use as a guide). However you choose to approach 120 Minutes, you’re likely to be entranced by all the layers Shiflet sifts together. His sounds are in constant motion, and even though the mood range is wide—sometimes the piece sounds daunting, even scary; other times it is subconsciously soothing—there is a unity to 120 Minutes’s momentum that makes it sound as big as the spheres.