Label Highlight: San Francisco's isounderscore

Home to many modestly run outsider organizations bringing us only the best in far-out sounds, San Fran has ever steadily grown into it's musical guru-ness since those early counter-cultural tape days in the 60's. Since then, a vast array of distros, labels, bands, venues, organizations, record stores, and yes, even agencies, have manifested in the light of like-minded creative bodies; thus transforming San Fran into the musically cultured epicenter that it is today.

As of yet-another fairly recent discovery, I can now add the bay area's isounderscore label to the ever growing list of this city's virtuous sonic achievements. Since the label's early beginnings in 2003, isounderscore's Brandon Nickell has been quietly using the label as an outlet for his own atmospheres, releasing a handful of albums under the guise Aemae, including his 05' opus The Helical Word. The last two years have seen the label expanding it's horizons, releasing albums by artist's like Maleficia, Arastoo, the Persian avant-garde electronic composer Ata Ebtekar, Scrapyard fave Aaron Davis aka Acre, and tonal tape manipulators Dimmer, to name a few. The start of the new decade looks to be a promising one for the label with a string of releases in the pipeline, including a highly anticipated LP (for me at least) by Oakland based Rale. Promising indeed.


Remissions 2lp
2009 iso_08

The two responsible for this lovely double lp offering are Thomas Dimuzio and Joseph Hammer, two prominent figures in the robust community of Californian improv and experimentalism. Of the two, I'm more familiar with Dimuzio's work, his Sonicism 2xcd release and last year's Upcoming Events, a collab with Dan Burke released on No Fun, are both fantastic efforts. On Remissions, Dimuzio and Hammer blend their skills flawlessly, Hammer handling the analog tape manipulations while Dimuzio utilizes feedback, loops and archaic processing. The outcome is a dimensional rift, a bending of time through the trans-formative arrangement of sonic minutiae. Looped hushed drone fragments are sped up and slowed down and at times they are completely taken apart and stacked atop a dissolving bed of multi-coloured noise. The four side long tracks on Remissions are actually a collection of live concert takes between 2006 and 2007 in California, a solidified conformation of the adeptness of these two musicians. One of 2009's best records.

The Helical Word
Cd, 2005 iso_02

This was the first proper full length from isounderscore main man Brandon Nickell, an album that has so many subtle yet immensely intricate crevasses it's no wonder that it took over two years to materialize. But Materialize it did, through the use of self-written software, Nickell's digital format manipulations and synthesis techniques yield a vast dark ambient nether world, playing out like the soundtrack to one of Dante's stages of Hell. At times the compositions venture into a bubbly, yet still very ominous musique concrete, bridging on a deranged static-cloaked techno. Though The Helical Word ventures into many back alleys of avant experimentation, it's constant sense of mortality keeps it grounded, like a small black cloud that follows you wherever you go, telling you that any attempt of escape is futile. Lots to get lost in in The Helical Word.

Cd, 2009 iso_14

It seems Aaron Davis has slowed down a bit since his hyper prolific 07/08 year when I just couldn't get enough of his particular brand of oceanic floorcore. During that time I remember filling the days with his therapeutic drones oozing from the headphones at a molasses pace, fueling my constant state of bliss. With that said, I'm glad to announce that Isolationist is more of the same. If possible, this new material sounds even more stripped back, even more of a controlled minimalism that forces the listener to focus on what's going on under the surface. Not only should we focus on the underlying tonalities of the surface beneath the surface, but also those beneath the surface of that surface and so on. There are just so many layers here, and once you've tapped into them, that's when you're truly able to experience Acre's music. All that's left at that point is to lay back and let it all wash over you. A great compliment to the isounderscore roster.

ACRE- Portland's tone purest provides a lesson in hypnosis 8.11.08


Fergus Kelly's Metallic Mantras

About a month ago I was surfing the web and stumbled upon a small run Cdr label by the name of Room Temperature. I can't remember a link I might have followed to arrive at it's doorstep or how at all I actually came across it. Lucky for me that I did, because the work of the label's founder and sole proprietor Fergus Kelly has reignited my lust for what I have come to refer to as, the metallic mantra. Bowed steel rods, sheet metal bellows and tactile scrapes, pangs, churns, and whirls slowly unravel in the man's work, rarely revealing their true identities, but more importantly working as a symbiotic mass, as if each source representing a limb of some many-appendaged musical body. This is music that is both raw yet precisely calculated, inducing a sculpted hypnosis that is hard to break from.

Though stylistically similar to 1980's David Jackman or early Andrew Chalk, Kelly utilizes less rudimentary methods of production and sound design for his compositions, often refurbishing raw recorded material through digital effects and filters to achieve desired results. Maybe it's the result of advancements in musical production techniques over the last 20 years, but it seems Kelly has achieved to do what David Jackman attempted to do in the early 80's when he first conceived of and started recording compositions as Organum, which, was to create something that sounded new, and not archaic like all the Organum stuff ended up sounding like anyway (not that that was a bad thing). Swarf and Fugitive Pitch are the most recent offerings on Room Temperature, in which, the interplay between the unfettered material and how the end product is actually spliced and rearranged, varies in appropriation between the two releases. Thus, making it clear to me, that these are works of many hours of labour and love.


Fergus Kelly
Swarf, 3" mini cd
Parts I-IV, 2009

Attempting to pack 4 tracks in a mere 21 minutes can be a creatively daunting task, as temporal limitations can so easily result in compositional suffocation. Fortunately, Swarf avoids such potential tragedies by allowing just enough space for these choruses to breathe and uncoil; although personally I would have remained just as attentive if all of these tracks were twice as long. Kelly's bowing of 6 foot steel rods mounted to a steel sheet resonator serves as a testament to just how potent and hypnotic improvising can really get. The trance inducing quality of these tracks is in no small part due to the fact that this work is a culmination of 20-30 second loops of various recordings of the bowed rods, cross faded, blended and then left to stand the test of time. As alive as these tracks are, Kelly can rest assured that miles down that winding road, Swarf will most certainly stand tall.

Fergus Kelly
Fugitive Pitch cdr

Fugitive Pitch is a work between Fergus Kelly and frequent collaborator David Lacey, created from recordings made in cellars underneath Henrietta Street In Dublin, Ireland. From it's manumit beginnings it's immediately clear that this is a much different, much darker, affair than Swarf. The distant sounds of rattling metals squirm like rats scurrying to not be seen, punctuated by the lazy rhythm of some miss-shaped plastic drum while a vat full of offal static bubbles to the surface. A seriously dark, pulled-apart heart throbs through the center of the album, sustaining life for these miscreant sounds. Though the album maintains a dark sheath through it's entirety, the ominous walls do occasionally part, revealing pockets of a filmy gossamer sub-layer, where we're given fleeting glimpses of the mechanical workings of this beast. The tightly knit framework in and around these 9 tracks allows for punctuated transitions executed to utmost precision, warranting many revealing listens and high praise. Quite lovely indeed.

Fergus Kelly is a Dublin based visual & sound artist/improviser. Working in photography, painting and releasing music via his Room Temperature label.

Room Temperature

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