Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Hal McGee (compiler) - Dictaphonia, Vols 1 - 6 (HalTapes)
What can one say? Six volumes of recordings by dozens upon dozens of individuals, all of whom, if I'm not mistaken, sent Mr. McGee their contributions on microcassette, phoned them in or otherwise got the stuff there. Is there quality control in effect? Hard to say! Unsurprisingly, the offerings vary wildly in attack (not to mention listenability). At the nether end, there's a kind of homespun Chadbourne, extreme lo-fi effect where "weird" (ok, obnoxious) is substituted for interesting. On the other hand, sprinkled here and there, are some genuinely lovely and/or strong pieces. I'm not at all sure that matters in the scheme of things as I get the impression the intent is just to listen to the stream, allowing oneself to be intrigued or bothered by whatever shows up next.
There are a handful of recognizable names (not too many, to me) in play. On first listen I was intentionally not following the listing, so I had no idea who was performing. On volume one, my ears perked up on track 21 and, sure enough, it was Jeph Jerman. Yet, amidst a welter of detritus, there was also a piece called "Spring" by Violet out of Bethesda, Maryland that was pretty great. Who or what is Violet? I have no idea. [duh, now I do-Jeff Surak--I only wrote up a release of his a few months ago...]
Volume 2 continues with essentially more of the same. Not so surprisingly, some of the more successful pieces are those who put the weirdness to the side (at least a little bit) and just play. So Richard Orlando’s lovely “Farrington Street Blues” (on a dobro?) and Mark McGee’s “Capoeira Blitz Squad”, presumably on a berimbau (that these are recorded over phone wires doesn’t do a lot for positive instrumental attribution!), stand out as just enjoyable pieces of music. Also a very nice closing banjo work by Pony Payroll. I take it this is he
Not much stuck out on Volume 3, sorry--well, a kinda nice thing by Raw Mummy out of Nagasaki for a straw and water. Similar with Vol. 4, though containing amusing/enjoyable work by Enstruction and Kathy Burkett (a staticky rumination on a small dog).
Vol. 5 opens with a wonderful, humorous song by Don Campau, "Don't Dick With My Dictaphone", a lovely acoustic guitar number, reminiscent of Fahey. This volume, for one reason or another, is reasonably strong. Along with the usual bunch of oddities, there are quite a few solid, interesting pieces, including those by William Wesley & the Tiny Sockets, Rajun Cajun and Mi. T.-CON.
Vol. 9 (the next one sent me) is notable to readers of this blog for the inclusion of works by Kieth Rowe and Mattin. I'm biased, of course, but it's interesting to me how, while occupying a quasi-similar contextual space, Keith's work seems to me to contain so much more that the average contribution here. It's static, faint radio voices, hums, etc. but has enormous depth. (btw, Richard offered that this piece may be the same as one that circulated a few years back?). It's a fantastic piece, though. Mattin's "For Hal McGee" is a semi-interesting, self-referential song about contributing to this comp, charming in its own way. "Hal, what do you think of this? Good quality music? Well, this is definitely not AMM but maybe it will be released on the Erstwhile music label. That will be a bit of a shock." hee-hee. Much of the rest of this volume is fairly good as well--if you're only going to get one, it's this.
Hal also sent a disc by Don Campau, he of the non-dicking with the Dictaphone, titled "The River is My Body". The first, half-hour piece in some ways incorporates many of the traits found on the compilations--lo-fi, staticky taped sounds, disembodied voices--but it's done so with far more sense of space and sound placement, varied with bits of guitar and other "musical" elements, less sophomoric humor. Campau creates a very enjoyable, idiosyncratic sound world, always shifting, always holding interest (he interpolates, if not the exact recording something similar, the German code sequence heard in AMM's Hamburg show from '84), well constructed. The second one [I belatedly realized--not that's it's obvious from the packaging!--that this is a split disc of Campau and McGee] is a bit more disjointed and clunky, much less "musical" content, more noise (including Hal on the phone), but not bad.