Tapes, Tapes, and more Tapes: Unexpected Discoveries in 2017

2017 has been a strange year with regards to my discovery and consumption of new music. Since becoming part of the Irregular Crates team – a blog that I’ve followed over the years since my first introductions to what has become an exciting and fruitful creative scene – I have been truly honored to be sent such a wide variety of fantastic, expressive, and up and coming new music from artists I would not have found otherwise. Aside from Julien Baker’s ‘Turn Out The Lights’ and Chelsea Wolfe’s ‘Hiss Spun’, released on Matador Records and Sargent House respectively, all of my new music purchases of 2017 have comes from the independent ambient, experimental, drone, etc. labels that this blog tends to cover. Interestingly, all of my physical music purchases of 2017 have been in the form of the cassette tape; an accidental outcome that resulted in the research paper ‘Nostalgia, Ownership, and Low-Fidelity: Cassette Culture in 2017’ to be presented at an IASPM conference earlier in October. It would appear that the cassette as a medium for music listening has found its place in contemporary music research, as well in prime shelf space in my living room. The following write up is not necessarily a review of 2017, or a ‘best of’. Partly because I don’t believe I’ve spent enough time exploring new music this year, and also because I could never happily settle on the order of a list.

At the time of writing, I’m listening to ‘Solo Improvisation for Horn and Bells’, by Andrew Neil Hayes. The tape is probably the best example to explain my year of music acquisition as I was unfamiliar with the artist, the label, and have never been a fan of the saxophone, which features heavily in this release. Emerging from Bristol’s Liquid Library label, I bought the cassette as part of a bundle order while seeking out CaRTeR’s latest modular offering, ‘Piercing’ (more on this one later). It is through the affordability of the cassette as a medium for releasing and listening to music that allows me to buy in bulk without knowing anything about the artist and not having to worry about the overhead; I am able to explore truly new music that is often mysterious in its unfamiliarity. Andrew Neil Hayes delivers a fantastic long-playing exploration of the saxophone – an improvised performance recorded live that captures the unrestricted nature of a musician without notation, yet does not fall away into directionless abstraction for the sake of it. Congratulations to ANH and the guys at Liquid Library: the work of an artist I’d not heard of playing an instrument I’ve never been fond of has become one of my favorite releases of the year.

Continuing on the topic of experimentation, towards the start of the year I was recommended to pick up a various artists compilation, ‘self​-​identified non​-​male artists making experimental electronic music’, released Hylé Tapes. Shamefully, of the thirty-four artists included in this triple cassette release, Yokokono was the only name I was familiar with. I must thank Hylé Tapes for curating such a wonderful collection of experimentations, as the compilation that found my curiosity is my favourite compilation of any kind to date, not to mention the importance of drawing the much needed and dedicated attention to the female and non-binary artists that we have creating fantastic music (no need to politicise this further). Silentwave’s ‘The River’ also gets an honourable mention; the most recent release on the Parisian label that was featured earlier in the year on Irregular Crates.

Speaking of labels, my unintended dedication towards the cassette would not be possible without Steven Ramsey’s Constellation Tatsu. It is through this label that I stopped viewing the cassette as an occasional novelty purchase, and a serious medium for consuming the new music I continue to enjoy today. Firstly, my sincere apologies to Steven, who sent us here at Irregular Crates the 2017 Fall Batch for review, and collectively we failed to get it done. I’ll be seeing an appropriate review is sorted in the near future. That being said, reviews of the Winter and Spring batches of this year are up on our blog, and may I draw attention to Atariame’s ‘Fear Is The World’, which remains my favourite musical discovery of 2017. This again came as a result of a batch purchase without knowing much about the artist involved, and placing my trust in a label that has continued to deliver nothing but outstanding musical content over the years.

Being part of a music scene that seemingly knows no bounds, I am fortunate enough to have made a number of friends along the way whose music I treasure. Along with ANH’s saxophone improvs, friend and collaborator in Ghost Station, Neil Carter’s (CaRTeR) latest modular offering, ‘Piercing’, arrived on Liquid Library. Modular systems continue to amaze, baffle, and intimidate me. I understand synthesis, patching, and the process of sound creation and performance with such systems, but the sheer depth and quality achieved by Carter in this release is outstanding. There is a great delicacy that Carter musters out of a seemingly unpredictable and often uncontrollable interaction with his instrument – the removal of control is a topic of great current interest in recent music discourse that serves in attending to our appetites as listeners and practitioners by discarding the confines of convention. Carter avoids the cacophonic haze that improvised modular performances can sometimes become, and stimulates a great sense of discovery and excitement in the listener.

Another close friend made through a mutual love of ambient and drone, Alexander Roberts, recently started releasing music under a new alias, Kepier Widow. The first release, ‘Duality of Man’ appears on Lugubrious Audio, a tape label based in Durham, UK, promoting the darker underbelly of ambient, drone, and experimental music. Kepier Widow is a departure from Robert’s previous and well renowned releases under the name of Joseph Curwen, and explores the complexities and possibilities of musical creation with Pure Data and DIY experimental approaches. ‘The Duality of Man’, inspired and constructed around the works of Bernard Herrmann, retains the dense drone-like soundscapes, but introduces a much wider palette of sounds and driving, minimal percussive elements.

To conclude, the motivation behind this lengthy post was not to produce a ‘best of 2017’, or to review the year based on the music I’ve been fortunate to discover or ne sent. It was to reflect on a year of removing habit and delving into the unknown by way of purchasing music without having heard the artist before, or really knowing what to expect. It was a mere coincidence that all of the new physical copies of music came to me in the form of a cassette tape, but the medium proves supportive and faithful to both the presentation and ethos behind the wealth of experimental and unconventional music we are presented with today. In 2018, I plan to dedicate more of my time to presenting a ‘tape review’ section of some sort, that will serve Irregular Crates with new content as well as myself with new sonic worlds to get lost in.