Stop. Rewind. The Tapeworm have only been around for just over a year, but in that time they have done so much to raise the profile of a format which has been teetering on the edge of respect ability for sometime. By no means are they the only label committed to the format, but just look at some of the names already in their catalogue: Fennesz, Pita, Daniel Menche, John Butcher, Lasse Marhaug, Stephen O’Malley and, on their very first cassette, Philip Jeck. It isn’t all experimental music, though: the label has released pop music and spoken word too. Inevitably, it doesn’t all hit the mark. Perhaps the best way to think of their roster is that it too is a very eclectic mix tape compiled for you by a person wildly indifferent to your taste in music. No-one can possibly like all of this. Can they?
Given that, it is to be expected that a Tapeworm event actually feels as much variety show as conventional gig; you almost want to hold up scores at the end of a “turn”, doing your best Nina Myskow sucking-on-a-lemon face. Look at the lineup for this one: an interview, solo piano, spoken word, more solo piano, pop, hauntological turntablism, and minimalist drone. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed Cathi Unsworth reading from her book Bad Penny Blues, but was never likely take to Zerocrop’s relatively straight (in a musical sense) slightly industrial-tinged pop, despite the presence of a backing singer hiding under the magnificent pseudonym Olivia Neubauten John. From the serious to the profane and back. All these bewildering shifts in mood made me feel like I was watching a Dalston-set David Lynch film; camp cowboys and East End hookers, nightmarish noisescapes and dissonant drone.
And then, amongst all of this oddness, you have Philip Jeck. I’ve seen him play three times in the space of a week (at ATP, in the Resonance FM studios, and then here at Oto), and it has shed a little light into how he works. I know that at Oto he was using a fair bit of the same source material as he did for us at Resonance FM (some Sibelius, James Last, his own London Tenderberries single, a recording of his own bass, some bagpipes, a German baroque composer whose name I can’t remember), but it sounded entirely different. When you watch Philip Jeck playing live, and he looks so lost in the music, so deep in concentration, it isn’t just theatre, it is because he is doing this on the fly; reacting not just to what he is hearing but to the situation. For example, just a week ago at the Godspeed ATP he was purposely creating some aggressive sounding glitch by dropping the stylus on the record, and leaving extended sections of looped drones, but here it had a constant, flowing movement, emotions just seeping through time, and into one another. Three times in one week? I could listen to this every night.
The evening closed with a performance by Randy Gibson, who had flown over from New York, where he is a student of minimalist composer La Monte Young. Tonight he played a tiny organ, gradually adding notes one by one until he had constructed a room filling (and, sadly but inevitably given the late hour, room-clearing) drone, and chanting over the top. It is probably fair to say that Gibson doesn’t quite have the voice of a Pandit Pran Nath, and I’m not entirely sure what was being added by the two others on stage playing boomboxes (I think it was meant to recreate his excellent Tapeworm tape, in which the sound of him stopping and starting the tape recording to build layers creates a percussive subtext) but to end this wildly oscillating night on a moment of relative calm, of stillness, and of pleasingly soporific and mind-emptying purity, was highly welcome. This was no fast forward, just a long, slow slide into nothingness. After the Jeck set which at times felt like it was bout everything, this felt like such a contrast. Such is the beauty of the mixtape. As the Tapeworm have been known to holler, long live the cassette!