Full disclosure here, Eric Hardiman who operates Tape Drift and performs as Rambutan and with Century Plants and Burnt Hils and lord-knows-how-many-more collaborations and projects is a good friend and someone whom I admire. So it’s not always easy to write about music released by your friends or your friends label, but, I’m going to do my best to try and distance myself when listening to this and write about it in the most objective possibly way I can.
First things first, I understand that this is a split tape and not a collaboration. Second, the first side actually starts with Josh Mason, so Eric has committed the unforgivable crime of listing the artist who appears on the B-Side first. If I were Josh Mason I’d be furious and would throw the full force of my entertainment lawyers at Eric for this alone. But I’ll step aside and let their respective attorneys deal with that. If you’re reading this Josh Mason, I’ll gladly assist you as a witness if this leads to any kind of legal action, unless, Eric offers to silence me with Tape Drift commodities.
Josh Mason’s music is really gorgeous, and I mean that. I’m listening to this in a cold apartment shortly after super-storm Sandy ravaged the tri-state area and it’s having a soothing effect on me. I’m also feeling particularly anxious because it’s Election Day and millions of people in this country will decide whether we get a moderate and somewhat conservative Democrat or an etch-a-sketch Republican who to appeal to a far-right base has pretty much turned into a moderate fascist. But thanks to Josh Mason’s minimal guitar chords backed-up by reel-to-reel generated background noise (sounds kind of like one of those “Environments” LPs with the sound of a crackling fire playing in the background mixed with someone crumpling balls of paper and throwing them at a waste basket but missing) I’m feeling a little more at peace. This is not my cup-of-tea, most of the time (because I haven’t been feeling very contemplative as of late), but the different layers of sound capture my attention and make me want to discover more. I’d really like to see this music happening live, maybe inside a warm and well-lit log cabin with a blazing fireplace and a view of a frozen lake. A hot cup of coffee in my hands would be nice too. These sounds are warm, my only complaint: this side is too short and leaves me feeling like I’ve been cut-off from a more extended performance.
The general theme of the release is that both artists used a TEAC 3440 reel-to-reel and while Mason seems to use the loops more as a background to complement his guitar playing, McLaughlin employs it as his main instrument on his side of the tape.
Nathan McLaughlin’s side has less of a flow than Mason’s. It’s also entirely different, which is a really good thing in my book. There’s nothing more dull than listening to a split release where both artists sound alike. On his side, McLaughlin basically does reel-to-reel tape musique concrète, which kicks off with some banjo plucking and then moves into much more abstract territory. Very minimal sounding loops move from loud to quiet, the banjo pops up again and then gets sucked into other noises. It gets really good for me during the middle when it turns into a much more opaque sounding and slightly decaying loop. I could probably listen to that middle track on it’s own, hearing it slowly decay for up to 30 or 45 minutes and I’d be delighted, but that track is short, it ends, and then it goes back to different short-burst of loops. Musique concrète is a tough sell for me, because, well… for starters, the sounds created by McLaughlin sound atemporal and impersonal, and they don’t sound all that different then something that could have been recorded by Pierre Schaeffer himself or any of the artists affiliated with the GRMC, so it’s as if an entire approach to composition which was started in the first half of the 20th Century hasn’t progressed an inch into the 21st. Of course, that’s not true… its influence is palpable in most forms of popular music with the use of sampling, looping, re-mixing, etc but McLaughlin doesn’t seem to be innovating on the technique. I’m sure these recordings were super fun to execute and possibly even to watch happening live, but it isn’t all that captivating to listen to from a stereo.
I recently saw a live set by Pete Swanson in Brooklyn where his entire set up was basically just a reel-to-reel playing the same sound (a hard techno beat) repeating over and over and growing louder and louder, needless to say it was the least interesting set I have ever seen from an experimental musician and it made me think I was in a dance club, the young kids with Justin Bieber haircuts in the audience loved it though. Not that there’s anything wrong with dancing, I just cant’ go there. I’m all for rescuing and bringing back old analog equipment, but if we’re going to do that, let’s add something to it, let’s build on it.
Overall another solid release from Tape Drift and a rewarding listen from both sides especially if you’re not a cynical bastard such as myself.
Get it here while supplies last – http://www.tapedrift.com