Cassette Reviews, CD Reviews

Kamtchatka – Nature of Sonographic Features

May 25, 2012

Circuit Torçcat

So hot here at the moment, unbearably so at times. Give me grey and chilly any day. Anyway tonight I played a cassette (yep, they keep coming) on the Bacelona based Circuit Torçat label. The tape is credited to Kamtchatka, who are the duo of Pau Torres and Alfredo Costa Monteiro and is titled Nature of Sonographic Features. It seems to be my default reaction to cassettes to think that they contain music naturally suited to the medium- that the musicians made music that potentially benefitted from an analogue, low-fi format and so went in search of a tape label. Whether this is the case or not, or whether all music released on tapes ends up sounding earthy and grainy and so I tend to naturally lean that way, I’m not sure, but Nature of Sonographic Features (terrible title!) is another that makes me think this way.

A lazy but inevitable description of the music would be to call it drone music. There is plenty of subtle variation in the music that covers the two sides of this tape, but from a surface overview perspective droning would probably be an apt description. It is nearer to (and I realise I have used this pointer a few times too many as well) the isolationist/dark ambient sub genre / trend of the week that raised its head in the mid nineties, a kind of deadened, grainy and grey rather than screaming and glowing drone. The music that Kamtchatka make has been created via file exchange. They describe this release as one part of an archive of their exchange process, in which sounds are continually batted back and forth, constantly changed, evolving, perhaps liquidated into the slowly shifting, semi-transparent strata of industrial sounding low roar we have here.

I have written before about Didcot Power Station, the looming  architectural nightmare that dominates the skyline here where I live. Ever since I was small the sound the main turbines gently roaring has been a part of my life (soon to not be the case by the way as the main structure is due to close early next year, and yes, the potential to borrow the massive cooling towers as a concert venue is being investigate!) When I was at primary school though, aged maybe eight or nine we were taken to visit the working station, and because of the high noise levels in there we were each issued with a set of muffling headphones and told not to take them off, which of course I ignored. One very vivid memory though was the strange, decentering sensation I felt when walking through a door into a particularly loud, large mechanical space and to hear the intense roar filtered through the gauze of the headphones, eating just a dull, featureless blur. That is what I am reminded of listening to the music of Kamtchatka. I feel the need to take my headphones off and hear the sounds in all their glory, but of course this isn’t possible. The music on the tape occasionally shifts, thickens, thins, but when processed so thickly and then transferred to the uncertain finish of magnetic tape the feeling of blurred, out of focus textures comes right to the fore. Its not even close to noise music, the volume never really rises, but there are similarities in that the cassette medium ha sheen used to abstract the detail of the sound even further. Exactly what instrumentation, or what was recorded to provide the original source material here is completely unclear, lost in the mists of Dropbox conversation. Kamtchatka do not make essential music to my ears. I wasn’t absolutely blown away by the cassette, its good, well made and clearly a real obsession of the musicians, but ultimately perhaps unremarkable beyond the interest that its chosen medium gives me. It will certainly appeal to many people, particularly those fans of tapes and their degrading qualities who may want something more subtle than the walls of noise usually presented in this manner, but as much as I like soft industrial drones we have heard a good few by now, and it takes something really exceptional to make me keep getting up to turn the damn tape over.

Comments (3)

  • Seth

    May 26, 2012 at 2:54 am

    I did some recording with a frame drum in a derelict cooling tower last year, for Bang the Bore’s nuclear power-themed Zone of Alienation event:

    Amazing acoustic, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before or since. Sounded very electronic in some ways, a whole column of sound bearing down on you. I had Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra very loosely in mind, articulating the space with trimbral variation and consistent rhythm. Maybe a boring approach, but I’m no John Butcher in terms of technical skill!

    That piece got released on the last disc of Missing Nothing, our 6cd fundraiser compilation – which also featured Simon’s recording of I Am Sitting In A Room that you attended in the medieval vault under Southampton’s Old Walls.

  • Seth

    May 26, 2012 at 2:57 am

    “Timbral.” Sigh. Spelling.

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks for that Seth. I should look up that benefit set, will be nice to hear John’s Southampton performance again.

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