Cassette Reviews, CD Reviews

Phil Julian – Location +

November 30, 2011


The first thing that I enjoyed a lot about today’s release, a cassette tape named Location+ by Phil Julian released on the Entr’acte label was the very satisfying, if surprising little hiss I got when I slid the knife into the vacuum pack packaging to open it. Entr’acte packaging is always a lot of fun to negotiate in a manner that allows you to put the enclosed object back into it afterwards. Its not that easy with CDs. I haven’t tried to get the tape back in just yet, but it looks like it will be something of a task.

Anyway, the music on the tape matters as well. Interestingly, this is another release by Phil Julian issued under his real name rather than his Cheapmachines moniker. I haven’t quite worked out what the requisite criteria for a release might be for it to be issued under Phil’s real name, but maybe its as simple as volume, as the music on this tape is all very quiet. There are two pieces here then, one on each side of the tape. The first side contains music that is apparently “Computer algorithms processed using natural phenomena” and the second side flips this equation round to include recordings of “Natural phenomena processed using computer algorithms”. I am not exactly certain that I understand fully how Phil made these recordings, but I think it goes like this- For the first side Julian played computer generated sine waves and similarly formed white noise into a very resonant room. He then recorded the sound of these elements with external microphones, so capturing not just the digitally made sounds but the deep resonance of the space. He also then played computer generated passages of white noise in an outdoors situation, and again recorded the sounds as they came from the speakers, so adding in additional sounds of the external environment. He then took these new sets of sounds and composed them into the work heard here. The music of this first side of the tape then is somewhat minimal, quite beautifully so- glowing streams of what sounds now like feedback rather than simple sine waves as they have thickened and become more rich having been filtered through the resonant room. The little patches of white noise we hear are rare, brief and quiet, and the sounds of the outdoors that accompany them are very subtle and slight. Its a delicate, gentle work that often disappears beneath the whirr of the tape player here churning the tape over, and is quite rudely bookended by the clunk of the player deciding ending the track. How much we might miss, or how much the music is altered by its appearance on a cassette is of course impossible to tell, but as this release seems to be about the interaction of digitally created sounds with the real world then perhaps it is only fitting that it should be released on a less than crystal clear format.

The second side of the tape was made by Julian going out of doors, and taking external recordings of the environment, plus amplified captures of the electromagnetic sounds made by the laptop itself, and feeding them back into the laptop where they were processed in real time using open source software of some kind and recorded for this release. So here we are given the sounds of the outdoors, added to the buzz and squelch of the laptop’s invisible outpourings, all played back and recorded outside. What we hear then is a similarly delicately structured piece, but this time the sounds are harsher and a little more present, all buzzes and shrill fizzes, but again they come and go, with long passages here nearly silent, with again a mixture of tape player whirring and a kind of murky outdoor sensation, with the odd tiny snippet of birdsong audible here as I listen.

This is a curious little release. I couldn’t be bothered to time either side of the tape, but I suspect there is no more than half an hour’s music here in total. In places it is very beautiful indeed, and it has a fragility to it that I like a lot, a feeling that its all going to snap and collapse at any point. This, coupled with the still unfamiliar environment for me as a listener away from the comfort zone of the CD player made listening to this tape through a good few times a consistently nervous, alert experience. The processes used to make the music here are clever as well, touching on ideas we have heard before but still working as a composition in a precise way I haven’t seen the like of before. A nice little release then, not that expensive at all available here in a very small edition of fifty, and if you buy one, get ready for the little hiss when you open it…

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