• Reviews

    Big Brother & The Holding Cock – Big Brother & The Holding Cock

    Big Brother & The Holding CockBig Brother & The Holding Cock
    Big Brother & The Holding Cock
    C20, Fuzztape, 2011

    Being impressed by 梅志勇 (Méi Zhìyǒng)’s solo performance in Hong Kong – an intoxicated, quite punk microphone-driven fuzzfest just about ten minutes long – I dug in my box of yet-unexplored releases and ended up ripping this 2011 collaboration with Torturing Nurse’s Junky released by the man’s own label, Fuzztape, under the name Big Brother & The Holding Cock. Now, I have absolutely no idea of the relationship that this record has with Big Brother & The Holding Company (maybe some of their LPs were scratched by Junky during the recording session?), but the name sounds fun, if anything because of the semantic associations I make when I think of it – like, who is the Big Brother here? Probably Junky himself, while Mei Zhiyong takes the role of the Holding Cock, or just holding his own cock, or maybe Junky’s. Anyway, it is a cute name for a purportedly industrial/noise act who releases a black cassette wrapped in a sheet of “sulfuric acid waste paper” (as per their description, probably a Google-powered translation of tracing paper which does indeed sound very industrial), itself bundled in a lump of knotted tape, making the whole packaging quite hard to put back together once opened.

    What’s the music like, anyway? Nothing transcendental, but way better than Zhiyong’s solo output reviewed some time ago and, despite its low-key stuttering and muffled tape mastering, the two ten-minute sides are actually capable of gaining the listener’s attention through precarious variations and glitchy passages. Side One begins with a broken sequencer tone undergoing some uneventful modulations – probably a circuit-bended drum machine through some distortion, kept from becoming a steady loop through knob fiddling and sudden halts. The piece seems to follow its own tempo, despite the absence of any regularity, as it slowly melts down into a mangled mess that sounds like downright tape manipulation, popping and sizzling like a broken speaker; halfway through the trip, it splits into two tracks, as the cuts sport a more frantic edge, hovering over the feedback hiss in the background, with the noise loops resembling gated drum blasts or overdriven radio signals. Even when the attack and release of the beats are reduced to almost zero, mired in the uncertainty of a slow cut-up style and punctuated by broken bits of silence and pulsating frequencies, while the high end breaking up in spurts and crackles, the whole thing manages to actually make sense, and stretch the original sounds into interesting variants. Side Two is more compact: similar source sounds but let loose, with swashes of white noise floating over the fizzing contacts and the bass loops, everything transported on a faulty tape reel in front of some clanking industrial machinery. Oscillating squeals pair up with the rest of the manipulations, sometimes precipitating into silence or trying to pull the whole mess in uncertain directions. By playing along the same lines of Side One, the second track sounds a little less convincing but the overall atmosphere is still enjoyable, especially when it wanders around more industrially-sounding loops or when in the second half the sound palette is opened up by straightforward turntable slowdowns and bitcrushed breakbeats throbbing under the weight of an oppressive distortion.

    My rip might have aggravated the overall sound quality, but this tape does have a nice punch and, without being an exceptional release, it still manages to provide a fun, twenty-minute fix of subdued industrial noise with a definite electronic edge, a sort of messy power electronics played with no regard for post-production. Big Brother & The Holding Cock contains a lot of cables misfiring, faulty contacts and crackling pots, and it is one of the best Fuzztape cassettes released up to today. The only reservation I have with the record is that it lacks in headroom, panning and sense of space: the gnarly and overdriven cut-up drives the point home, but everything remains all too often strictly bi-dimensional and blunted. After twenty minutes of listening one feels trapped in a narrow space, struggling to focus on the development of a sound in a very small portion of the audible range, while much of what had been going on during the recording session remains to be imagined following some muddled hints buried here and there in the mix.


  • Reviews

    梅志勇 – 條 條 條

    條 條 條梅志勇
    條 條 條
    Tape, Fuzztape, 2011

    I’ve already mused about Fuzztape here and there. I would be glad to recapitulate, repeating myself and saying: Fuzztape is the only tape label active in China at the moment, it keeps releasing filthy über-limited records by the best Chinese noise musicians and so on. Sadly, Fuzztape’s homepage has been down for several months and the last release (a four-way split between Soviet Pop, Deady Cradle Death 致命摇篮死, Fat City and 张守望 Zhāng Shǒuwàng) came out more than half a year ago. Yet 梅志勇 (Méi Zhìyǒng), who runs Fuzztape as a branch of the almighty NOJIJI, is definitely not missing in action. He recently toured Japan with Torturing Nurse, and a live recording from the tour is supposed to come out as a lathe cut soon, so it’s likely that Fuzztape’s operations will resume in the near future. If not, another dead label in the ephemeral Chinese underground scene would not be a surprise…

    I got a batch of Fuzztape releases earlier this year. Among them, there was a tape by Mei Zhiyong himself called 條 條 條 (or just , according to the cover) packed in a standard transparent box with a color artwork featuring mud-covered corpses somewhere in war-torn Libya. The words Buddha Liberation on the front cover looked eerily ironic. Having never listened to anything by Zhiyong and having heard about his passion about DIY electronics and pedals, I was quite curious to check out one of his releases. Through a generous release trade I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity, and I hereby announce my findings: this tape is shit. Plain, unpretentious, self-contented, sincere, understated, desiccated, odorless, almost loveable shit. Be warned: throughout this review I will use the idea of shit as a pure signifier, so feel free to understand it as you please. The overall sound of 條 條 條 is extremely murky and lo-fi, potentially similar to a forgotten 4-track guitar recording for a Slovenian black metal album from the early nineties, basinskially decomposed for twenty years and processed through a faulty fuzz pedal. I admit that my tape rip might have aggravated the already atrocious lack of any detail (as the only tape head available was my sister’s crappy stereo player) but I assure all the readers that the original tape sounds pretty much like this: motionless, extremely poor in frequencies, fuddled by oversaturated mids and thin high squeaks. The A side consists of a spurting electronic signal driven through an array of simple distortions for twenty-so minutes. The poor frequency response and the absence of any rhythmic element give to the result a sort of cheap industrial/drone feeling – think of distant factory sounds muffled by a snowstorm and echoing in a subterranean shit-stained public toilet. Cyclically, the droning and monotonous rumble breaks up in careless decimations and granularities that make it stagger and crackle for no apparent reason. Take out the tape, flip it, and enjoy its B side – once in a while, a true B side: a crappy live take of a lonely drum machine slowly covered by distant washes of white FM noise, piling up without any structure until the gain is cranked up, the drum machine goes reverse and everything melts into shit, boredom, the horror. The already poor palette of sounds collapses back into the same unforgiving, anonymous, mid-boosted lo-fi distortion of the previous track, while the brazen drum machine lazily surfaces back once in a while, as if joking or pretending to be trapped in the same rarefied frequencies of the whole record. The last track is the paradigm of the tape: two minutes of spitting interference and filtered high frequency signals oscillating inside a cheap flanger, one hundred eighty-six seconds of meaningless, submissive and dejected whirrs and distant bleeps. Pure shit.

    I normally enjoy bashing records and being mean, but I have to admit that with this tape Zhiyong made me transcend my original attitude and reach a new plateau of understanding. It is basically impossible to review this tape. I will probably never listen to it again, but at the same time I feel that the unsettling sincerity and simplicity of these tracks has something to say, conceptually, to everyone having time and interest to actually talk about noise in the year 2012. After all, we all understand the sheer pleasure and fun of distorting the simplest signal that one can get of his equipment and fiddle with it just for the sake of it. Mei Zhiyong just recorded some shit and made tapes out of it. Why the fuck not.


  • Reviews,  Theory

    颜峻 – Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)

    Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)颜峻
    Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)
    Tape, Fuzztape, 2011

    Not inspired Onkyo-inspired no-input mixer on tape. Right, the format clashes a bit with the tradition of the genre, but the interaction does actually create some interesting things: the sound is not polished, the direct punch of the bass peaks is smoothened by the frequency envelope while clicks, crackles and feedback oscillations emerge from a soft and warm texture of hissing tape thickness. This also means, though, that the high and low ends of the spectrum are sensibly muffled by the mastering on tape, and the idea that the earphone-listening suggested on the cover art should provide an “ear-drumming” experience (something along the lines of any Ryoji Ikeda’s Test Patterns, I guess) is sort of crippled by this fact: most of the percussive sounds cranked out of saturated mixer channels linger sadly across the spectrum and in the middle of the aural space, resonate in analogue harmonics and bounce around following some slow knob-work. Listening to this as a self-proclaimed “No-Input Study”, I would venture to say that I’ve seen people study in more interesting ways. I’m not a big fan of 颜峻 (Yán Jùn)’s recent live sets, built around multiple speakers-mixer feedback, a directional microphone and some objects thrown in the cones to disturb the frequencies, but Ear Drummer is not even a studio version of this (which I would at least find interesting as a document and a statement). All that’s in this tape is just twenty minutes of no-input mixer basics: inputs into outputs, high frequencies distorting into crackling hiss, sub-basses stretched into percussive waves, volumes and pan pots tentatively adjusted to make things appear and disappear with a lazy indolence.

    Yet, following the name of Adel Wang Jing (who, according to the liner notes, “invigorated” Yan Jun to record this at Ohio University @lab during a recent series of workshops and improvvisations across U.S. institutions) I came across one paper published on the Journal of Sonic Studies where she presents her own theory of affective listening using Chinese experimental music as a case study, coaxing Yan Jun and Li Jianhong’s latest output into a framework that I find highly questionable, especially in its reference to Qi, Buddhism and Taoism as the epitomes of a non-interpretive and deterritorialized (whatever you want this to mean) listening practices. Probably I lost my grip on postmodernity, but linking affective listening to practices of self-trascendence (sometimes overlapping or contrasted with practices of self-transformation) and equating the concept of Qi to Deleuze and Guattari’s hacceity (right, the “thisness” of something compared to the energy flow common to all things, makes sense) seems just a little far-fetched. Ultimately, what disturbs me in this kind of theorization is not the rather fashionable theoretical toolbox as much as the feeling that the only feasible way to characterize the music of these Chinese artists seems to be, after all efforts to question it, again and only a nondescript Chineseness: one makes two, two makes three, and we all go up on the clouds to play some sound-calligraphy, and you audience would you please be quiet and listen attentively, otherwise you’ll not grasp our self-transcendent expression. I would love to delve further into this – and will never have time for it, fortunately – but I’m baffled by how academic analysis and the musicians’ theorizations are often well-disposed to fall into feedbacks of self-congratulatory discourse. In an interview to Yan Jun in a recent, quite hagiological column, he proclaims: “Westerners deconstruct their own traditions in order to redefine them, whereas the Chinese simultaneously attempt to understand the Western tradition and to rediscover their own. While Westerners believe that the Chinese are re-inventing sounds that already exist, the Chinese believe that they are simply re-inventing themselves.” I’ll play the part of the colonial Westerner then: Yan Jun has been a rather known poet, music critic and essayist, a successful organizer and a smart promoter, but his idealistic proclaims about the nature of experimental musicians in China not simply reprocessing foreign genres but integrating them with the values of Chinese culture do not find in this specific release any concrete proof – maybe because Yan Jun himself has no pretense of being a musician, but then again why would we have any interest in being the listeners of this 17 minutes of unquestionably derivative no-input fiddling? Music is hardly legitimized by theory: we want sounds that speak by themselves. We want good records and moving, challenging or exciting performances, not listening instructions.

    Academic blabber aside, if you haven’t had enough of Nakamura/Sachiko M/Ciciliani/McGee no-input stuff, have developed a maniac black-metalesque attraction for obscure minimalism, enjoy being told how to listen and what to listen for, or you want to hear how this CD-centric (or even file-centric, as per recent Alva Noto & Raster-Notonian developments) genre plays out on tape, you might enjoy this release. After all, the most interesting thing about Ear Drummer is that it is a tape, and that it exists thanks to 梅志勇 Méi Zhìyǒng’s efforts in publishing tapes through Fuzztape, the only – as far as I know – underground tape-centered label in the PRC right now. Praxis wins.