Sound Holes 94-96
5.25.22 by Peter Woods
The font used by Sound Holes, a diverse tape label based out of Scotland, produces a pretty intense blast of nostalgia for me every time I see it. The straight forward sans serif letters that have been chewed away at the edges, as if the typewriter that imprinted words on each and every j-card had seen better days, feel as if they came straight out of an edgy 90s advertisement. If someone on a skateboard with a backwards hat and sunglasses chucked this tape at my dome while shouting “this ain’t your grandma’s noise tape” before cruising off, the font would fit the profile.
Thankfully, the kitschy 30 year throwback seems to exist completely in my head. Or at least it does for three recent tapes released by the label, all of which tie directly into different facets of the current experimental music landscape (and not a 90s aesthetic landscape created by an advertising agency). Cath Roberts and Sam Andreae, for instance, draw from contemporary approaches to free improvisation on Miadw Argument. Between Roberts’ mostly acoustic objects and Andreae’s electronics (alongside a smattering of saxophones and whistles), the duo creates a sense of intimacy through their embrace of space and confident playing. By allowing the instruments to speak for themselves without feeling any need to hide behind layers of sound, the group creates the feeling of pressing your ear against a tiny speaker or resting your head on a table next to a small acoustic device while sitting shoulder to shoulder with the performers. Or maybe it’s the feeling of being shrunk down to the size of a bug, meandering through an array of buzzing, whirring, and glitching objects with only the occasional moment of a giant human interfering with this technological playground. While holding to this approach may be stifling for some, the duo covers a lot of ground across these recordings, holding your attention without any real lulls throughout.
In an almost mirror opposite approach, Brandstifter and Diurnal Burdens bring expansive and dense soundscapes on Fünfte Symphonie. Proving similarly diverse, the duo dives deep into the best aspects of tape music with a pacing that never moves past “lurching.” Fluttering warbles, offset loops, and that gorgeous hiss all meld with scrapes and clanks from what I feel like has to be live recorded scrap metal or industrial field recordings. Separating or locating the individual elements becomes nearly impossible without ever falling too deep into the murk or mush that tape music often produces: certain sounds feel like they have to be a tape loop until you realize none of the sounds repeat and vice versa, that sort of thing. An affect of longing then emerges from the collection of musical components, creating the sense of a hazy memory floating just past the grasp of the listener but never fully materializing. Like you should remember exactly where all of this came from but, on further inspection, realizing that it never actually happened.
Reconnecting with a sense of space, Camila Nebbia turns in an equally powerful and confident performance on Presencias. Foregrounding her saxophone playing throughout, Nebbia seamlessly shifts between technical skronk and wispy extended technique, as if translating the gesture of a radio moving in and out of a tunnel to an acoustic instrument. Nebbia then connects these outbursts of highly skilled playing with distant feeling texts and field recordings, producing a distinct sense of space and context. While a close recording of the saxophone performance without the additional sonics (released as, dare I say it, a CD or digital download) may provide a clearer and more detailed document, the inclusion of the field recordings produces a feeling of transportation. This music, taken together, feels like it had to have happened in a particular space rather than existing as an album you can listen to anywhere. Thankfully, Presencias brings you into that space, creating a feeling of listening from within instead of witnessing from the outskirts.
Although none of these tapes rewrite the scripts of the genre niches they work within, it doesn’t feel like this music has to do that or that the artists were trying to break the mold in the first place. The three albums reviewed here powerfully reassert the best aspects of their respective musical forms and radiate the confidence needed to be exactly that. These tapes are workhorses, contributing to the foundation of the current musical landscape without trying to grab unearned attention with flash or gimmicks. To this end, the Sound Holes font actually makes a lot of sense: a straight ahead sans serif font that comes from a well worn but trusted typewriter actually provides a pretty apt metaphor for every one of these tapes. By going back to basics without feeling redundant or derivative, these tapes feel instantly familiar but encourage multiple listens. Even if an energy drink chugging skateboarder didn’t grip them 3 feet above a flaming half pipe.