Cassette Reviews

Thursday 20th October

October 20, 2011

The second of five cassette reviews then, and I must confess that this tape has been sat around here unplayed for quite some time now, but hey, I go there in the end. Four Compositions was recorded in May 2010 by Asher, who self-released this tape sometime early this year. Now if there was ever a musician who I thought might suit the cassette tape format well it could be Asher. If the process of recording sounds physically onto magnetic tape, then picking them up via a tape player’s heads, rather than encoding it digitally through a DAC converter of one kind or another degrades the original sound at all, the music of Asher, which has always to me had a cloudy, misty quality to it, may actually be enhanced rather than damaged. It is of course, impossible to tell without a CD copy of the music to hand to compare the tape against, but certainly there is a lovely feeling of haziness to these four works that suit the format well.

Asher Thal-Nir is an interesting musician. So much of his work veers directly into an area of “ambient” music that, from other composers I might consider a little unacceptably bland. Some of the music on this tape is thoroughly Eno-esque, close in theme to something like the Apollo recordings, which isn’t a bad thing as such, but does seem to look backwards a little too much, and maybe doesn’t excite me much on any level other than a surface sensation. However he also includes something that Eno and the ambient crowd usually steer away from- the grit and hiss of everyday life, the detuned radio, a sheen of imperfection cast over his otherwise tonal washes of sound. Asher’s music always conjures a sense of nostalgia to me. Trying to picture the music in my head, as I am prone to do, I see everything in sepia tones, a kind of filter cast over everything. I have long had an interest in the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, and I would hazard a guess that Asher shares this interest as his music often cloaks itself in a sensation of imperfection, of natural degradation.

The other thing that is interesting about Asher’s work here in relation to the cassette format is how long tones here seem to warp and wobble slightly as they play. Is this a feature of the music as it was recorded (I suspect so) or is the tape moving unevenly through the head? Maybe (and I suspect this is the case) Asher composed these pieces with a tape release in mind, and so created work that plays with precisely the physicality of the medium, leaving us as listeners to ask these questions. There are other new issues for me that present themselves when reviewing tapes. I can’t easily tell you how long tracks are for instance, and if it isn’t marked on the tape shell, (which it isn’t here) I have no idea which side is side 1. This isn’t a problem here as Asher has included no details other than the title of the album and where and when it was recorded, so which track is which becomes a moot point, but if we assume that the side of the tape with the title printed on it is Side 1, then the opening track is my favourite here, containing more of the hiss and fuzz than elsewhere, and the following pieces, which lean more towards the tonal sounds dominating the audio image less so.

Nice work then, if maybe a little too much of the same thing, a little too amorphous and floaty perhaps, and I wonder if I would have as much interest in this music if the questions about how the format affects what I hear weren’t so prominent in my mind. One for fans of both the musician and the medium then.

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