Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do you like horror stories? Lately I find it increasingly difficult to find good ones, especially when it comes to movies. It seems that coming up with engaging, original plots is getting harder and harder. Even so called J-Horror (the recent new wave of films from Japan that became popular worldwide thanks to The Ring has reached a cul-de-sac. Oddly enough, some of the people who have recently provided me with the best bad vibes are sound artists…
Take, for example, Mark Sonnenfeld. Many of you should at least know his name because his booklets are often reviewed in a number of zine review zines. Mark has been very active in the mail art and experimental poetry circuits for many years now, but I recently discovered a new side of his creativity, when I found in my mailbox Experimental Tape New Jersey #2 that he produced together with the mysterious Ghostly Bus. ETNJ#2 is a slow-burning piece of suspense. Mark & GB avoid any loud noise, instead insinuating themselves into your ears with muffled sounds, strange voices, ringing telephones, and a robotik funk riff. This tape was the ideal soundtrack while reading the truly dreadful Gerald’s Game by Stephen King, one of the few writers who can still make the hair on my neck stand.

The never-resting Sonnenfeld even collaborated with Ken Miller, another mail artist who likes to play (with) music. Miller added a catchy bass riff to a street recording of Mark’s A Red Shirted No Friends. The quiet main theme blends wonderfully with Mark’s plain recitation. Only in the mid-section things go a little crazy, when Ken juxtaposes two different vocal tracks and starts experimenting with music, but always in a very soft way.

Miller’s usual stomping ground, though, is his almost one-man-band SinDex Industries – formerly (un)known as Sinister Dexter – through which he explores and sometimes abuses American musical tradition. Particularly good is the anthology Fifteen Years (1984-1999) in which you will find, among other things, weird blues songs; rock songs whose lyrics were pulled at random from a car repair manual; a couple of more atmospheric tracks; great versions of Beatles and Clash songs; and an effect of Ken’s invention called “Miracle Earache” which according to Mr. Miller, “along with producing the worst feedback imaginable, picks up several channels of AM radio. The album’s notes, by the way, are as hilarious and good as the music.
As every horror fan knows very well, the best stories often are the ones that deal with everyday life and ordinary people. In this sense one of the best recent projects I stumbled upon is the Quotidian Assemblages 3-CD series edited and produced by Hal McGee.

For those who don’t know him, Hal is a senior member of the huge D.I.Y. tape network that originated in the 70s and developed worldwide with more than a few contacts with the mail art community. Hal had the brilliant idea to invite a wild bunch of Mad Professors to create audio works based upon ordinary everyday sounds. Loren Steele, for example, shows you how a not-well-oiled window can upset your nerves. G..X. Jupitter-Larsen's plain field recording of the Paris metro acquires new sinister tones after the terrorist London bombings. Mystified’s “Pan Pan Pot Spoon” is all in its title, but the overall effect is as spooky as a Tibetan thriller. And then you have evil washing machines, undigested breakfasts, dog-walking gone wrong, apocalyptic radio news…
Perpetually house-moving mail artist and poet Jessy Kendall is another person who likes all-round playing. As Marcel Herms wrote in the third issue of his excellent zine Rigodon regarding Jessy’s CD Rough Ride of Crafts, “It’s always a good thing when you can’t immediately pigeonhole a record. Like this one.” Jessy uses a bunch of fairly conventional instruments on his release, but the end result is quite unconventional – not as creepy as I would like though… It jumps from voice-experiments to a synth-bass-based psychedelic jam to some weird loops. But its experimentation is always soft, and quite entertaining.

Among other things, Jessy publishes a couple of interesting zines: a monthly collection of his poems and Answer Shirker, which features other people’s works, some in color [above left you can see a collaborative work he made with Jim Leftwich). His letters are very interesting too.
When not working on Rigodon (US$ 7.00) (a publication mostly devoted to noise & experimental music), Herms himself loves to torture your ears and brain with his usually very loud productions. Check them out at your own risk.
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to escape into the realm of ghosts and monsters to get your daily dose of horror. In this respect, the best CD that recently found its way into my mailbox is without doubt Franetta McMillian’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker (US$ 10.00).

Among these very well produced songs (actually more poetry with music) you will find scathing condemnations of past and current American politics, and of contemporary society; a sad, moving tale of domestic violence; a clever send-off of fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism; and a piece that could be defined as pro-euthanasia (see below). Actually there is much, much more in this excellent album, including seven instrumentals, and not everything is as bleak as I make it sound. Indeed, the overall mood is one of hope.

Okay, back to the classics, let me mention quickly a tape I made some time ago. The Overlook is a reworking of The Shining (yes, King again). A friend of mine recorded excerpts from the novel, which I mixed with old music from my own collection – nothing original – mostly alternative rock (e.g. Cassiber and Art Bears) and other strange music (Pierre Henry, Negativeland). It’s quite rough around the aural edges, but all in all it’s satisfyingly dark. If you want to give it a try, send me US$ 4.00 or an equivalent trade.
Thank you and good night.

Mark Sonnenfeld, 45-08 Old Millstone Drive, East Windsor, NJ 08520, USA
Ken Miller, P.O. Box, 101, Newtown, PA 18940-0101, USA <> <>
Hal McGee, 1909E SW 42 Way, Gainesville, FL 32607, USA <> <>
Jessy Kendall,
Marcel Herms, Postbus 6359, 7401 JJ Deventer, The Netherlands
Franetta McMillian, PMB 170, 40 E. Main St, Newark, DE 19711
Gianni Simone, 3-3-23 Nagatsuta, Midori-ku, Yokohama-shi, 226-0027 Kanagawa-ken, Japan

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