The decision to call this new Editions Mego offshoot label Spectrum Spools seems just too perfect. Though it is going to be issuing LP-only editions, the titular reference takes in recordings which use tape as part of the creative process, as well as things which are actually issued on a format which continues to have such persistent relevance in certain musical scenes. The spectrum aspect, as well as the allusion to that vivid display of colour (as beloved of psychedelia as much as its more recent musical cousin, hypnagogia) is surely a reference to a continuum: a body of analogue electronic music, one which stretches back to the musique concrete (and tape-based) work of Pierre Henry and Francois Bayle at INA-GRM, taking in the Radiophonic and modular synth pioneers, the kosmische and subsequent new age movements, the Lovely Music catalogue, and leading right up towards more recent excursions into synth-pop, industrial electronics and noise (which are, of course, so often issued on tape).
Via a whole bunch of recent artists drawing inspiration from these sources (not least the likes of the label’s curator, John Elliott from Emeralds), the whole thing is given a twist and taped end-to-end so that what you have is a never ending strip, in which the new and the old are back to back and side by side, visionaries past and present located contiguously. A Möbius strip (or perhaps, in the spirit of giving respect to our musical elders, a Moebius strip). Those new musicians can have very different approaches to this huge back catalogue: the most artistically successful are those which don’t just copy old forms, but seek to build new links; those cutting and splicing different elements together, or overdubbing, rather than those simply making their own copies. The likes of Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never are as much – if not more – plugged into minimalism, concrete and noise as they are into the kosmische scene of the 1970s.
Bee Mask is a similar case in point. The alias of Chris Madak, the project of this name has been responsible for a tangle of CD-Rs and cassettes (what else?), mainly on Deception Island, but also on Arbor and Emeralds’ own Wagon label. The wonderfully-titled Canzoni Dal Laboratorio Del Silenzio Cosmico first unspooled itself on the Gift Tapes label last year as a short (C30) but particularly well realised demonstration of his creative vision, one which showed an affinity with a wide variety of the aforementioned colour palette, and which arranges them to set up interesting contrasts: vivid against muted, warm against cold. It opens with a concrete-like collection of samples – the sounds, I think, of bowed marimba, someone coughing, and some rewinding cassettes (what else?) – before cosmic arpeggios rush in and overwhelm the space. Later, some minimalist drone is followed by a burst of dense noise and then some lucid Radiophonics, bright and melodic, while some of the more experimental synth landscapes remind me of the composer Douglas Leedy. And that compositional element is the most important factor: you get the sense that this has been put together with considerable thought, in order to create this nostalgic – if somewhat mysterious – narrative.
Some of the work I’ve heard from Chicago’s Matthew Mullane in his other guises has placed him in the realm of the serious electro-acoustic composer, the sound artist, or simply the guitarist, but his debut full length release under the Fabric name is primarily synthesizer-based. Not content with being virtually a one man Emeralds, he also publishes poetry and writes lengthy essays on the aesthetic experience. Given that he is clearly such a deep thinker about music, the depth of this work comes as no surprise. Like the Bee Mask release, it begins with chunks of noise, but this time it is what sounds like traffic noise, signifying the beginning of some sort of journey – inevitably, a journey through time as much as anything else. On a piece like the epic ‘Light Float’, he adds layer upon layer, element after element, shaking them to creating a complex, colourful, suspension, the patterns of which you could study for hours, and always find something new – or indeed something old. From amongst slowly-shifting drones and fizzing electronic pulsations there will emerge a Oneohtrix Point Never-like melody, bubbling to the surface like a memory from the depths of the unconscious mind, before it returns once more to the opaque. With this evocative and inventive mixture of sounds, Mullane, like Madak, has dubbed himself into this particular spectrum with some aplomb.