New Vacant Tapes Release

Devoting most of his musical attention as 1/4 of bass & guitar amp-worshippers Nurse, Roger Mexico now branches out to provide us with his first solo outing. His musical prowess takes shape in the form of an unrelenting six-string, where Mr. Mexico has honed the technique of tactfully guiding his trusted ebow over a prepared guitar to actualize his sinister musical vision. Elongated tones and psychedelic squall fill these muscular arrangements, as if harkening to a dreamed up collaboration between Yoshi Wada, Tony Conrad and Broken Flag-era Matthew Bower. Fans of either three will find a lot to like in Poisson.

Mexico, Roger Poisson, C-32
Released August 2010
Edition of 30 cassettes


5 Questions: Daniel Crokaert

Daniel Crokaert is the man behind the decade standing Mystery Sea cdr label and has recently started a new label under the name Unfathomless. He currently resides in Brussels, Belgium and at my request was kind enough to indulge upon a few of my inquiries.

SF: In a past email you had mentioned that you have an insatiable appetite for music. Can you briefly talk about how you first became aware of outsider music culture and how you eventually began Mystery Sea?

DC: Since my early childhood, I've been bathed in various forms of music, as my father used to compile his own tapes from various vinyls he borrowed from friends... it's only much later than I realized how important these days were...

but the true triggering moment of my love for outsider music culture was my quasi direct experience of the punk DIY ethos (yes, I'm that old !) which seemed to meet all my hopes for change, rebellion against numbing/standard values, giving new directions... it's at that precise moment in time that I caught the “virus”, and that I became increasingly interested in all forms of non-mainstream art & music... then I had the chance to exchange correspondence with and meet some artists that turned me completely upside down, constituting some ideal model through their sheer passion, and formidable emotional impact, and all the background behind their own venture : Eyeless In Gaza ! The name Mystery Sea is a reverential tribute to Martyn Bates (half of the EIG duo)... this band has given me so much that it felt natural as a choice... the theme for the series poured out of itself...I started it a good 10 years ago, at the junction of the new century we're now in...and no end in sight yet...(endless seas...)

You've recently started a second label called Unfathomless with a focus on sonic interpretations of specific places. What was the inspiration behind this new venture? Do you see this new label as a personal opportunity to fulfill a different goal, perhaps something that could not be actualized within the scope of Mystery Sea?

If the Mystery Sea series was initially more based on “drone” as leitmotif, along the “episodes”, it gradually incorporated more works where field recordings had a paramount role... Along my years as a student in interior architecture, I had the chance to do some specific installation in an old building, the atmosphere of which deeply moved me...I've always been fascinated as well with the intimate relations we can share with environments that mirror us in a way, but also with what still seems to linger on in those...something far beyond words... it's so strange to remark that most of the places we frequent will survive us, and have been permeated with our passage...There are numerous artists who practice in that field, and who consciously or not did have a decisive influence on me... I used also to be an avid reader of this blog :http://sense--of--place.blogspot.com/

the U series has as aim to deepen the MS experience, and while still being ltd edition,it offers perhaps a bit more perennity to artists ' works since those are on CD (not CDR)...It also reflects my own thirst of expanding the act of listening - I recently acquired a Zoom h4n, and I do thus my own sound “photography”...

All the aspects of your releases, whether on Mystery Sea or Unfathomless, subscribe to a central ethos that shines through in the packaging, artwork and music. Probably most apparent is the deep-ocean-drones theme found within the Mystery Sea releases. Is it required that artists provide work that fits the theme, or is it more of a matter of accepting what they give you?

I try very much to get original works created specifically for each label, and thus probably conceptually stronger... though I'm not willing to close my door, and from time to time, I receive submissions outside of any invitation, yet more or less having a natural tie with the themes...it's sometimes nice to throw in a little anomaly, diversion to stay away from the routine... The challenge is then to find a way of linking them, and it can lead to other unexpected perspectives, I believe...

From your site and your stunning artwork, I've discerned that you have an interest in the blending of sounds with visuals as the complete package. Do you see this crossing of mediums becoming more of a focus in future label releases? any DVDs on the horizon? How do you feel about visual accompaniment during musical performance?

As much as I feel strong connections between the visual and sound aspects, that can complement each other for an enriched perspective, I've also my doubts about a forced or sometimes weak cohabitation... it certain cases it can be misleading, or simply decrease the potential of the imaginary... like a book translated into a movie : the encounter of these two spheres can be fruitful and point out new ways of appreciation, it can also be destructive...I've always done the artworks with much respect for the music, the artist, trying to be as close as possible to the mood in which the work has seen the daylight, or its emotional resonance in me...I hope it shows...For the reasons evoked in previous lines, and also financial ones, I haven't planned any DVDs so far...

You are centered in Belgium and have released work from artists all over the world. In your opinion where are some of the more interesting contemporary musical regions and why? Can you provide a written playlist of some of the music you've been into lately?

Interesting things happen all over the world really, mostly in the continents/countries where there's the luxury to be involved in such cultural activities...for economical/political/religious reasons, some people will most probably never have access to these...Nowadays, musical progress & diffusion is largely depending on the access to internet...I'm a bulimic music lover, and so my collection is always expanding, and I find myself often only listening to the latest things just in : currently spinning, and springing spontaneously to mind (a lot of usual suspects !)

Philip Sulidae “Hidden & Tied” MP3
Christopher McFall “The body as I left it” CD
Ubeboet “Archival” LP
Asher “Interference” Tape
Lasse-Marc Riek “Harbour” CD
Scott Smallwood “Desert winds : six windblown sound pieces” CD
Joda Clément “Movement + Rest” CD
Hapsburg Braganza “Hatchling” CD
Yann Novak “The Breeze Blowing Us” CDR
Anne Guthrie “Standing sitting” CDR
Chris Watson “Outside the circle of fire” CD
Simon Whetham “Restricted access” CDR
Various unreleased works from
James McDougall, Juan José Calarco,
Hiroki Sasajima, Tarab, Christopher McFall, Chubby Wolf...etc...

Mystery Sea ~ Unfathomless

Ominous Sonographies: Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Daniel Crokaert -- Part Two

Daniel Crokaert started his U imprint in late 2009 and with 4 publications to date already, it's obvious that Mr. Crokaert is serious about this new endeavor. The Unfathomless releases are printed on cd rather than cdr and Crokaert has opted for a sleeker, slimmer aesthetic, trading in his jewel cases for clear poly plastic ones and opaque inner sleeves. Nicer prints as well, my photos do not do these justice.

While Mystery Sea was a label whose theme bridged on watery dronescaping, Unfathomless is based more on field recording and specific locations, and the artist's personal fascination with these locations. Essentially these recordings are meant to capture the spirit of these particular places where it is encouraged for the artist to use found materials from these locals yielding an organic characteristic to the recordings. A great idea for a record label which has spawned some interesting results.

Mathieu Ruhlmann Tsukubai
I received what I initially thought was a random email in February from Mathieu Ruhlmann. He had heard of the blog and was interested in hearing some music of mine. It wasn't until I realized that he actually lived just outside of Vancouver that it wasn't so random after all. We've become friends and periodically we record together, though unfortunately not as much as either of us would like. Upon our first meeting we exchanged releases, which was a little sad because I ended up with this hefty bundle and he got a single cassette. Stowed within that bundle was Tsukubai, the Unfathomless debut.

The "location" in question is the Nitobe Memorial Garden at The University of British Columbia. I've personally never been there despite spending countless hours in and around the UBC area. Ruhlmann based most of the album on hydrophone recordings, evident throughout as he does little to mask his natural sounds. The tracks unfold with a steady hand and an expert pace, the sign of a man who's done this once or twice before. Gradually, soft-focus drones creep their way in and it strikes me as impressive that Ruhlmann was able to capture it all at this one particular location. The album is made up of 8 tracks seamlessly blended, each one a miniature sound world that varies slightly from the last. Parts VI and VII are stand outs, the former with its chiseling motorifik clatter and the latter sounding like someone making coffee under water. A fine work by Mathieu Ruhlmann paralleling his Fourteen Worms For Victor Hugo and his latest As a Leaf or a Stone.

Luigi Turra & Christopher McFall Tactile.Surface

Tactile.Surface is the reflection of an imaginary place. It is the virtual space created from the culmination and consolidation of recordings from both Turra's living room in the city of Schio (North of Italy) and manipulated tape work with unclear origins by McFall. McFall recites an experience he had of listening to the pieces that were to appear on Tactile.Surface during a 12 hour drive from Kansas City to Colorado, as though the music were playing out as a soundtrack to the desolate landscape and absolute skies. Drawn out dark ambience and palpable textures aptly reflect that setting, resulting in an incredible work that rivals many of the better contemporary practitioners of sonic tactile excursion.

Ominous Sonographies: Mystery Sea, Unfathomless and Daniel Crokaert -- Part One

Well, so much for August being a hyper-prolific blogging month. In fact, as quite obviously noticeable from the archive list on the right hand side, I didn't even manage to churn out one measly post. There were, however, good reasons for this. Namely, the excellent summer we've been blessed with in Vancouver and not to mention a microphone purchase or two that forced me out into the world rather than idling in front of my computer.

And now, I finally have a chance to present the much overdue three part post highlighting the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic of Daniel Crokaert and his Mystery Sea and Unfathomless labels.

Mystery Sea ~
Daniel Crokaert operates out of Brussels, Belgium and has been steadily – and it would seem, effortlessly –releasing exquisitely packaged short run (100) cdrs for Mystery Sea for nearly a decade. Crokaert publishes his "seas" (as he puts it) with an utmost attention to detail. This fact along with an artistic ethos that he personally overseas (sorry) in each release, can make one forget that they're dealing with cdrs here.

The label has nearly exhausted the gamut of note worthy musicians to contribute to its perpetual dark-ocean-drone theme, releasing work from mnortham, Dale Lloyd, Coelacanth and Troum in the early years, to Matt Shoemaker, Asher and jgrzinich more recently. And by the looks of it, he's not slowing down either. For this particular highlight I've decided to extract 5 recent releases from the MS catalogue to discuss and review, which, I think should paint a fairly cohesive picture as too what this excellent label has to offer.

Jgrzinich Phase Inversion

Speaking of jgrzinich, I've recently been spinning this incredible disc as therapy for restless nights. And in case you were wondering – as I was – the pseudonym is actually a mash up of his first and last name; John Grzinich, much like Michael Northam (mnortham), which, I believe is something they came up with together.

Jgrzinich is building an impressive catalogue with releases on Sirr, Intransitive, and Staalplaat already behind him. There is good reason for his work appearing on such prestigious labels as he has continuously produced some of the finest drones around. Jgrzinich's recordings are the culmination of countless hours spent in the field wandering in and around abandoned buildings, grasslands, silos and airplane hangers, anywhere that might hold a magical sound. His weapon of choice appears to be the contact mic, of which he affixes to these buildings and silos in various ways. Roadside fences, wires and train stations also seem to be points of interest for Mr. Grzinich, and he will often physically shape his objects, sometimes adding cups or plastic bags, or even an extra metallic appendage; much like prepping an instrument. Then he'll attach his mics, either sit back to let whipping wind or rushing water do the work, or he'll manipulate the objects himself to achieve desired sounds. To view photos and videos of Jgrzinich in action try these links:

images from Phase Space

It's not just that jgrzinich is able to capture these sonic spaces that is impressive – there are many-a-sound-artist who use similar techniques in the field. No, it is the focus and patience of his acoustically derived works that really make his recordings stand above so many others. Phase Inversion is no exception. A slow fade in for the 21 minute opener Dispersion Trajectory and the listener find's themselves amidst a thickly lain drone. Not thick in a wall-of-sound sense, like Acre or early SunnO))), but more of a coagulated pulse, slowly clotting with the introduction of subdued murmuring, out-of-focus tactile flourishes and maybe a happy accident or two. The second of these three tracks sees a reversal of roles, the flourishes shifting to the foreground while a low frequency throb simmers beneath it. That is, until the tolling of a ghostly bell just shy of the ten minute mark begins to play out, aligning the composition more with the first and third pieces.

If the staunch trajectory of Phase Inversion is a testament to anything, it is that John Grzinich cares about the environments that he is so evidently finely tuned into. I can picture him traversing Estonia where he now resides, painstakingly seeking out freshly discarded materials, ransacking through a post-industrial squat for objects to clang together, testing the acoustic parameters of a newly discovered sonic environment. And in all honesty, if he were to call you up one day to partake in an organic matter and sheet metal jam within the walls of a hollowed out geodesic dome... you'd be foolish to refuse. Like all his work, nicely done.

James McDougall Dispossession of Periphery

James McDougall is an up-and-comer with a handful of cd-r and mp3 releases spanning two years. A small but significant start to what could very well be a fruitful occupation in sound. Gnawing contact mics are immediately recognizable as the opener slowly churns a palpable grind. The track is quite nice, constantly speed checking and barely straying from its minimalist ethos. The rest of the album sees McDougall expanding his palette to include bowed metal, breath, water, and whirring motors. At times the music takes on a more lush cinematic feel, as described by Brian Olewnick from Just Outside; unfortunately, not to the album's merit. I would have personally liked to have seen McDougall adopt a less-is-more mentality in some of these arrangements. It's clear that some 'voice' searching is in order for this (artistically) young artist. All things considered though, Dispossession of Periphery is a fine effort that reveals much potential for future releases.

Terje Paulsen Horisont

Here is a man who I don't think many people know of. After two Mystery Sea releases appearing quite close together –MS 58 and MS 62–maybe the dimly-lit sound world of Norway's Terje Paulsen will acquire a bit more attention. With an undercurrent drone running through the center of the piece and a myriad of other sounds like rippling water, subdued bells and indiscernible rustlings, the single track on Horisont remains very consistent. However, the album's conclusion feels a tad abrupt. Seeing Paulsen extend the piece for an extra 15 minutes and oh, I don't know, maybe bring everything down to a gentle simmer, would have given this album the extra quality points it needs. Not a bad work by any means, just a little short and little too safe.

Simon Whetham Beneath the Swinging Bridge

The liner notes of Simon Whetham's Beneath the Swinging Bridge state that all the source material for this album was recorded in the Cumberland Basin in Bristol, UK. So, water, again plays a dominate role, along with structures that hold sonic possibilities, like the Bristol Swing Bridges. You've got to turn this one up to reveal it's intricacies. I initially had it playing at a fairly low volume and could only make out the bubbling of water, but I assure you that there are some menacing drones lurking in the background. Whetham gradually reveals more of the world beneath the bridge until we are actually there with him, listening to cars pass above and what could be the bellowing of gas pipes. Some of the sounds are maybe a little over processed, and again, at 37 minutes it feels a bit underdeveloped. Great idea though with moments of brilliance.

Hiroki Sasajima Nille

On his album split into 4 parts, Japanese sound artist Hiroki Sasajima presents a rather focused set of ominous field work, layered and significantly blurred around the edges. Most of these parts take the form of a low-end drone, that like many other Mystery Sea releases exemplarily captures the deep ocean theme, albeit can begin to stunt one's fascination after a while. Sasajima incorporates some of the other usual suspects quite impressively, ie bubbling water, rustlings and tactile elements, and there are a number of very minimal tonal sections buried in here that grabbed my attention. As a whole, the album doesn't elicit the potency of a jgrzinich or Asher release but is worth investigating none the less.