Cassette Culture: May 2020

Cassette Culture is a monthly column dedicated to exploring the various artists that inhabit the expansive cassette market. Drawing from bands and labels around the world, this column will attempt to highlight some of the best artists and albums from this global community.

(Opal Tapes)

Under the alias of Sote, Tehran-based artist Ata Ebtekar constructs music that defies easy categorization and effortlessly eludes even the most dogged inquiries into the origins of its creation. Transmuting the ethereality of electronic music into something physically reactive, his work is riddled with acoustic experimentations and synthetic reagents. His music doesn’t adhere to any rhythmic guidelines, opting instead to wander and explore these circuital landscapes without restriction or melodic limitations. Often complex and prone to byzantine arrangements, Ebtekar revels in the sublimation of influence and the realization of his own internal mechanics.

With his latest release, MOSCELS – so named for the modular synthesizers and the particular modes they possess which give his sounds such an enigmatic tone – he has built a fascinating and hypnotic world of whirring synths and aberrant rhythms. Moody and occasionally prickly in its presentation, these songs stutter, shift, and then reshape themselves according to the capricious whims of their creator. There are times when the textures evoke brighter atmospheres and a certain lightness, but Ebtekar is equally adept at allowing them to reflect darker and more sinister emotions. MOSCELS is a torrent of wild currents and unpredictable movements, and it’s a privilege to witness its release.

Philip Sulidae
(Dinzu Artefacts)

Philip Sulidae doesn’t create music so much as he channels its mysterious impulses. His work often feels spontaneous, and likely is, tying together found sounds and experimental field recordings into a sound that can be subtle, minimal and abstract without losing its force and ability to engulf you wholly. Akin to William Basinski and Fennesz in the way they approach the dissolution and birth of their respective creativities, Sulidae is a vessel for the wonderful complications inherent to his music. Staticky and filled with plentiful negative space, his freeform compositions are emotional without being overtly manipulative and resonant without sacrificing his own unique perspective on sound architecture.

Tupik, his latest transmission from the murky depths of his imagination, is remarkable in that it can feel so weightless while still possessing a formidable emotional gravity. Built around two longer tracks – “Pampas Grass” and “Outskirts” — the tape is a miracle of unconventional instincts and execution, as its collection of scattered sounds evoke desperation and confusion without the comfort of deliberate context. These tracks are pure impressionism, allowing the audience to fill in that empty space with their own experiences and fears. And in light of recent social and political events, there are plenty of terrifying thoughts and memories that we might thread throughout this amorphous soundtrack.

Ivan Zoloto
(CANT Records

Ivan Zoloto has long wandered ambient corridors and noisy spaces where he can be focused on the unraveling of his experimental tendencies. Riddled with droning tactility and shambling electronics, his past work has been wholly affecting and emotionally pulverizing. By embracing the tonal primitivism of noise, he has developed an aesthetic both sustainable and deconstructable. However, all is not just tumbling tones and capricious textures – there is weight to Zoloto’s efforts, an appreciable emotional density that allows him to function within this garble of terse melodies and hiss-streaked anti-rhythms while roaming through some wildly innovative collage-based soundscapes.

For his latest cassette, the trilogy-starting Ghosting, Zoloto has created a travelogue of sorts, utilizing a kind of musical geography that informs each track. Recorded in Moscow, Shanghai, Petrozavodsk, Odense, Lincoln and Yekaterinburg over the course of six years, this collection is a startling realization of his electronic wanderings. Collaborating with Li Huihui AKA Arrebato, formerly a member of Chinese harsh noise outfit Torturing Noise, Belgium-based TG Gondard, and Ernesto González AKA Bear Bones, Lay Low (who provides bits of spoken word and synth pads), Zoloto has crafted an ode to the relevance of noise as a viable art form.

(Third Kind Records)

Japanese artist Nikmis deftly blends electronic experimentation with his own classical leanings, bringing together disparate inspirations to form a cohesive and mesmerizing brew of baroque melodies and wobbly synthetic tones. These modular symphonies are adorned in breathless atmospheres where plinking sounds and oddly orchestral tides cascade across one another. There’s a playful swagger here, as if Nikmis is joyfully channeling these sounds without any external influence (which is likely the case) and imbuing them with a life al their own. He possesses a loose-limbed versatility, a preternatural ability to effortlessly coax these shades of noise from a number of given musical sources.

On his latest cassette, Jawbone, Nikmis continues to pull apart his classical impulses and bond them to a series of electronic revelations. He develops an equilibrium between the various aesthetics at work here, letting the music bloom and evolve at its own pace. He creates gateways into the hearts of these different sounds, portals where their complicated movements are revealed and can be explored. They are expansive and filled with synthetic flourishes of a pastoral nature, like Vangelis collaborating with OneohTrix Point Never on the soundtrack for the SNES RPG “Earthbound”. Jawbone is a gorgeous and ornate electronic journey through the unspoiled wilderness of Nikmis’ creativity.