By Marc Masters July 01, 2022
All kinds of experimental music can be found on Bandcamp: free jazz, avant-rock, dense noise, outer limit electronics, deconstructed folk, abstract spoken word, and much more. If an artist tries something new with an established form or invents a completely new one, chances are they’ll do it on Bandcamp. Each month, Marc Masters selects some of the best releases from this wide exploratory array. June’s selection includes late ’70s experimental punk, mid-’80s sound collages, water-based soundscapes and 300 tenor saxes in one song.
Bald Eagle on Food City
The drumming of Neil “Cloaca” Young in the Massachusetts experimental collective Fat Worm of Error was something like his driving force, if you can call “driving” swerving all over the road. His solo work as Bromp Treb has a similar vibe to a kitchen sink, but he’s also adept at more meditative music. Take “First Light,” a medley of layered horn sounds from his latest album, Bald Eagle on Food City. The juxtaposition of this solemn aura with the cartoonish electronics of “Across the Parking Lot” and the futuristic Raymond Scott of “Theme For Bald Eagle Over Food City” encapsulate Young’s idiosyncratic aesthetic, which seems to see humor and gravity as two faces. of the same rotating part. Most of the album leans towards the fun side, though, and riding it like a roller coaster is a great way to experience the chaos of Bromp Treb.
I live here
DC’s Davis Salisbury guitar work feels like a diary, as if every release on his Bandcamp page is a creative status update. You might even call his last band I live here a musical memory. For these 11 tracks, Salisbury sorted through his memories by recording a few improvisations, then recording more improvisation on top of it without listening to the first pass. “Any track I’ve used is unreleased and used in its entirety,” he explains. “It had to be analogous to moments in the past/history that you can’t change.” The result is a patient album that feels impressed by the passage of time. Sometimes Salisbury evokes Loren Connors, brushing bright colors through his amp. The most of I live here gradually melts into the air, making the moments of abandonment – like the crushing “Splitting Time” – all the more exciting.
Arrest without development
The seven-piece band Microkingdom calls itself “the greatest non-jazz band from Baltimore of all time in the world”. Their last album Arrest without development, sounds a bit like jazz, but it mostly carries the band’s patented whirlwind of energy, dexterity, humor and precision. The five tracks are versions of a composition by Microkingdom dummer Will Redman, a graphic score described as “an expanding and contracting play of melodies and rhythms”. Sounds come in and out of belching horns, rumbling syncopations, looping guitars and percussion that tie it all together like a lasso around a cow’s hooves. Microkingdom can go from blasting to austere in no time, and at their peak – the album’s highlight “UUUUUAAAAA” – they do both at the same time.
True and false
Joseph Nechvatal’s work encompasses sound art on tape, writing, editing, archiving and much more. (Check Selected sound works (1981-2021) for a sample of his career.) One of his earliest audio projects, True and false contains two side collages of pop culture debris and ambient societal sounds that swirled around him in the mid-80s. Part of the fun of this re-release is seeing which snippets you can recognize, but the most compelling is how Nechvatal weaves its sources together, cutting sentences and repeating sounds to build a narrative. In this direction, True and false looks less like a period piece than a mind map of post-industrial society, and a mirror of how information is flowing faster and faster through our brains.
music of yesteryear
The processes behind Weston Olencki music of yesteryear are fascinatingly complex. An excerpt from over 300 albums of music for tenor saxophone; another teaches the artificial intelligence to sing a Carter family song using the virtual voices of legendary country singers. But these are just a few of the methods used by Olencki (see the album page for more). The music is even more compelling than the stories: “Tenor Madness” is a cascading wall of horn sounds that resemble three-dimensional objects; “Cripple Creek” is a hard-hitting banjo loop that is instantly hypnotic; “Charon Guiding the Weary ‘Cross the Long River (Or, How to Care for a Dying Instrument)” alternates between chilling waves and zen tones. Throughout, Olencki conveys how musical history is more of a tortuous web than a straight line, creating new forms that reflect its ongoing mutation.
i am foggy
Multi-instrumentalist Ashley Paul began performing with bassist Otto Willberg and clarinetist Yoni Silver in 2020. Quickly, the trio created an eerie and moving combination of sad melodies, chamber jazz tones and sparse improvisation and thoughtful, landing somewhere between dreamy nursery rhymes and surreal dirges. On his new tape i am foggy, they evoke ghosts with their winding horns and deliberate rhythms. Almost every track is guided by a simple rhythm, from which Paul’s buzzing voice rises like steam emanating from the asphalt. In the well-defined sound of the group, there is a lot of sonic variety, but what impresses most about i am foggy is the unique feeling it evokes, a mixture of fear, comfort and disorientation.
Water is the life force on the new album from Seah, aka sound artist Chelsea Heikes. Over the course of a decade, Heikes recorded bodies of water around the world, sifting and massaging the results into five tracks of heavy, cavernous atmospheres. The weight of these pieces seems to match that of the globe, as Heikes forges a gravitational but never oppressive sonic density. “Songs Stones Sing to the Sea” creates a wordless narrative from echoes, while “The Asteroid Origin of Water” posits a wind tunnel filled with bangs and animal cries. The “dinosaur piss runs through our veins” from 18 minutes closer shows that Heikes has a sense of humor too, but the intimidating sound conduits of the hydrosphere are no joke.
Sophie Sleigh Johnson
Sophie Sleigh-Johnson’s audio collages are more documentary than music. Yet every track on its new tape Nonce Ref! establishes a distinct rhythm. Sometimes this comes from the repetition of a sample in a loop, but just as often it is due to the changes in momentum created by its cuts and fades. “I Cairn Get Enough Of It,” for example, is on the surface mostly noise and words, but Sleigh-Johnson slowly turns those sounds into patterns. Similar ripples run through ‘RIP Gentlemen’, an abrasive mix of breath and speech, and ‘Napoleon’s Violet’, a nightmarish montage. A part of Nonce Ref! is also totally abstract, but the best points hit a note even when it looks like Sleigh-Johnson is just making noise.
Plunge headfirst into punk rock 1978/79
Singular icons of the American experimental underground since the early 1970s, Smegma have seemingly made every imaginable noise. Born in Los Angeles, precursor to the future Los Angeles Free Music Society, the band moved to Portland in the mid-70s and found a burgeoning punk movement there. Dive headfirst into punk rock 1978/79 documents some of the results, collecting early live recordings as well as two 7-inch singles. Some titles are truly punk rock, in parallel with what was happening in Cleveland at the same time, in particular the splatter of Electric Eels. Other tracks are more obscure, with eerie vocals and dissonant sounds on par with titles like “Disco Diarrhea (Cheez-It-Ritz)”. Dives Headfirst exudes the chaos Smegma have always played with, happy to lean into songs and then blast them with whatever they have to hand.