June 22, 2009

Gregg Kowalsky – Tape Chants (2009, Kranky)

"Tape Chants" is fellow-Mills-grad Gregg Kowalsky's second release for Kranky, a US label long-established as an innovator in ambient and post-rock experimentalism. The album is based on a series of live performances/installations, in which an array of cassette tape players were placed around a room, playing recordings of minimal sound sources such as sinewave oscillators, mixer feedback, and contact mic recordings. During the peformance, Gregg would walk around the space and adjust the volume of the tapes, allowing the acoustics of the room and the position of the listener to play a role in the reception of the sound. For the "Tape Chants" album, the surround-sound element has been lost, but many of the recordings used in the performances have been incorporated into the mix, along with some subdued percussive elements played on what sound like the inside strings of a piano, and according to the liner notes there is also gong, motors, water, glass, etc. The result is a very organic-sounding, slightly lo-fi ambience which brings to mind early electronics recordings of the '50s, and feels very far away from modern digital glitch-futurism. The sonic textures are mysterious, hazy, hissy, occasionally static-laden, with a meditative warmth combined with an experimental edge. There is a slow but constant sense of movement provided by the shifting fuzz of what sounds like short-wave radio static or ancient modular synthesizer grit on tape loops, as well as other-worldy sounds that I am guessing are field recordings or contact mic textures; organic yet alien. The drones are occasionally punctuated by distant percussive strikes and abrupt dynamic textural changes, with some soft bass thrumming on the fourth track "VI-VII" provided by Marielle Jakobsons. "Tape Chants" is a very deep, soft-spoken album with an original ambient sound, which I would love to hear/see recreated live!