[note: We let Jamie write this review because Jaime has not paid his dues to Tabs Out or Mike Haley, the Nicest Guy in Experimental Music. If you have any complaints, please direct them directly to Jaime so he understands how he can contribute more studiously.]
When I received a copy of the latest Manoir Molle tape, titled “intéressant”, I could just tell from the packaging that this was going to be something that was right up my alley. My eye was immediately caught by the gorgeous post-modern surrealist artwork by Acacio Ortas. After a quick examination of the spine, I spotted a familiar logo. Cudighi Records! Game over. Cudighi Records, for those who don’t know, is a Los Angeles-based label that prides themselves on unearthing rare international psychedelia.
As I delved into the tape, the abstract, surreal, and zany qualities hinted at by the artwork came to life. The album opens up with a track called “Avenue” which features electronic clarinets and a MIDI snare drum. That’s the vibe you’re in for. At times very minimal and repetitive, yet with subtly changing undertones. It gives me warm and fuzzy feelings a bit reminiscent of luminaries such as Charles Barabé, Nikmis, or Larry Wish, albeit with a touch of restraint.
The album unfolds with “Histoire”, boasting cheesy electronic pan flutes and a fake sounding plucked guitar, while “Boigne” is a harpsichord-driven track with microtonal orchestration of french horns and flutes. “Autoroute” changes gears with pitch-shifting synths topped with sparse interjections of random harp notes. The album closes with “Nuit”, a suspenseful and synthy composition that leaves the listener in an intriguingly unresolved state.The almost 30 minutes of synthy orchestration by French artist Marion Molle brings me immense joy, and I wholeheartedly recommend treating yourself to a copy while supplies last.
Limited Edition Pro-Dubbed Cassette Now Available at Cudighi Records’ Bandcamp!
Anyone involved in experimental music in the northern Delaware area should be familiar with Casey Grabowski. Casey has been involved with many projects over the years, both solo and collaborative, and as you’ll see here a whole boatload of projects / monikers. Casey was also an active visual artist, DJ, keyboardist, and zine enthusiast. Before he got sick, most nights he had something going on, whether it was going up to Philly to DJ, playing a local noise gig, playing keyboards in one of his bands, or doing visuals at a festival. Casey got around.
This all started to slow down as he was given the sobering diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer in early 2017. Throughout his long and harrowing battles with chemo and various other treatments, we’d miraculously often see him at shows. These shows physically took a great toll on him, but to him it was worth it. Over the course of his illness, myself and many others from the community would regularly visit him at home, and in doing so strengthened our bonds of friendship many times over. For me, Casey went from being a casual friend to an extremely close friend. He fought harder than anyone I’ve ever seen fight. Pancreatic cancer is one of the worst, if not the worst type of cancer. It is aggressive and relentless. Casey suffered unimaginably over the course of those almost 2 years, and I can’t begin to think about what he went through.
Today, I caught the news of Casey’s passing and decided it would be fitting (and therapeutic) to write a retrospective of the cassette tapes he’s released over the past few years:
Nearest – Beauty Spent (Trixine Corp. 6/28/14) Nearest was a synth-based, shoegazy darkwave duo featuring Casey & René Alpha. This C20 goes by pretty quickly with just 4 songs (we should feel lucky as most singles only contain 2 tracks), but it is very satisfying, and probably my favorite of the Nearest discography (there were 2 other albums released on CD, but we shall not mention them here lest we anger the cassette gods). This self-released tape on the imprint Trixine Corp. (the namesake of Casey’s zine from long ago) features very minimal synths and pulsing drums done with classic drum machine sounds. It is mostly instrumental, but every now and then you’ll get a nice reverb soaked vocal line performed by Casey. The Jcard and shell are hand-stenciled, and it’s quite a nice presentation all-around. This was played on episode 60.
A little backstory about this one. In 2015, Sean Stellfox sought out to create a run of 12 splits in an edition of 1 physical copy each. It was quite ambitious to curate 24 pieces of music for a single “batch” with such limited distribution. The plan would be to distribute all of the tapes at the infamous Voice of the Valley noise fest in West Virginia, and that people would “trade” each other for them and continue to do so in perpetuity. Unfortunately, I don’t think this panned out too well, as I’m sure everyone who got one of these tapes just took them home, listened to them once or not at all, and then put them on their shelf, ignoring the “trading” covenant that they had entered in to. I like to think that this tape will be unearthed one day by future noise historians, finally entered into the Discogs database, and returned to my descendants, who in turn will not trade the tape, thus continuing the rich tradition of not trading this tape. Oh btw, if you have this tape, please contact me. I’d really, really like to get a hold of it! I promise I’ll never trade it.
Oh yeah, the music. The A side features Secret Societies, a more experimental techno project of Casey’s. René Alpha would often accompany Casey in this project as well, as he did the evening that we recorded the thing. This recording was the first time that I ever jammed with Casey and René. The full jam lasted for about 3 hours in Casey’s amazing room of synths, but Casey, mercifully to the listener, reduced it to a 14 minute mishmash highlighting the most interesting moments. On the B side is the Indonesian collective Jogja Noise Bombing, bombing their noise. Stylistically, the A side and B side are quite different, but I think that makes this split work really well, and a lot of fun if you ask me.
Lonely City – Lonely City (Trixine Corp. 10/30/15)
Lonely City is my personal favorite project that Casey did. It was once again his brain-child but usually featured other artists playing non-synth instruments such as guitar, cello, horns…etc… I am very fortunate to have performed with Lonely City in August of 2018. This was the last performance Casey ever did to my knowledge.
As you begin to listen to this album it sounds very electronic, but if you listen a bit closer, you can make out a cello swelling in and out underneath all the synths and beats. The B side features more of an ambient drone and does not contain any beats. Altogether this album captures some stunning moods, and I’d highly recommend it, but good luck finding a copy. This edition of 30 was self released on Trixine Corp and as far as I can tell did not have a web release. The J card is made from an old map, and there is typewriter typing on the back. The shells once again have a stencil which is reminiscent of the Nearest cassette. Superb presentation. This was played on episode 78.
Secret Societies – s/t (End Result 7/8/16)
In 2016, Casey did 2 tapes on Philadelphia based label End Result so he got some nice pro-dubbed tapes out of the deal. The first tape was Secret Societies, this time featuring Casey solo, and doing some crazy abrasive rhythmic noise stuff. This is probably the harshest thing that Casey ever released. Tons and tons of oscillators all going at once! At times, the album does mellow down a bit and give you a bit of a break. At other times the sound is even somewhat tribal. Quite an excellent journey.
Obligate Surrogate – s/t (End Result 8/5/16)
Obligate Surrogate was Casey’s hardware-based techno moniker. This is the style he probably did best. Anyone who ever knew Casey knew how much he loved gear, particularly old keyboards. He would spend hours menu-diving on these tiny little displays not bigger than a calculator screen. Not many people can pull this off. You could play this alongside any of the greats of experimental techno / IDM and this would not sound out of place at all. This came out just 1 month after the Secret Societies tape and has the same pro-dubbed professional goodness, which stands in sharp contrast to his previous self releases. This was played on episode 92.
Discharge – s/t (Trixine Corp. 10/28/16)
Yet another moniker! Ok, now Casey is back to doing an extreme DIY release. This is a tape he just did for fun and released in an extremely small quantity. Each tape instead of a Norelco case comes with a very specifically crafted piece of wrapping paper folded and expertly taped to house your cassette without tearing the paper. I remember Casey remarking to me that these were really annoying to do. Could be why there was such a limited run of these things. As far as I know there were only 6 copies ever released. I dug up a picture that Casey posted on the Trixine Facebook page. Note, I believe this is only showing 3 of the tapes. My copy is not included in this picture. If you have one of these tapes, consider yourself very lucky.
The music on this one is pretty crazy. There is no rhythm at all, it’s dark, it’s drony and screechy. The A side eventually cuts off abruptly, and when you flip it to the B side it’s as if you never stopped listening. Most likely this recording was put together quickly, but I still enjoy the gloomy and weird vibes of this one. The wrapping paper is very fun and makes me think it’s my birthday every time I pull it out.
Tabs Out podcaster Joe Breitenbach has a little known imprint that he does called Flying & Magic. Want to get a hold of a tape? Good luck with that. You’ll need to contact Joe directly. There is no internet presence for this stuff, other than the stuff I added to Discogs, probably to his dismay. Sorry B, I can’t help myself.
This tape will turn out to be the last album Casey ever put out. It came out right at the time that he started getting very sick and was diagnosed. I’d say this tape is an appropriate follow up to the Obligate Surrogate tape that came out on End Result the year before. Stylistically it belongs in the same musical universe, but deviates enough from the previous release to keep it fresh. The vibes are very techno / acid and makes use of many of the tools in Casey’s vast tool shed of synths.
So that about wraps up my retrospective of Casey’s tapes. I must say I did greatly enjoy listening to them all again. It really did help with the mourning process and helped me remember the care, enthusiasm and craftsmanship that went into his music.
Casey also did a limited run of a Tabs Out series called Sonic Syrup. He was recording these in the midst of some of his most aggressive chemo treatment, and you can hear the wear in his voice. You should definitely check these out. Casey selects some grade A music, and his reviewing / spoken word style is quite different from the Tabs Out podcast that you may be used to hearing.
Rest in peace dear friend.
Casey’s wife Michelle has a GoFundMe if you would like to donate.
Ever wonder what it would sound like to have a root canal in the Alice in Wonderland universe? Me neither, but here’s what I’d imagine it would sound like. Pick up Neil Cloaca’s project’s Bromp Treb’s new tape “Stickless Sharkless Bagless”; a limited edition C20 on his very own Yeay! Plastics label. (Great label name by the way!)
There are three tracks: “Stickless Bag Shark”, “Sharkless Stick Bag” and “Bagless Shark Stick” on this pretty-looking clear shell with purple print on the label. I was sensing some sort of pattern with these track titles, but I couldn’t figure it out. Then I went to Google Images and looked them up, and got a mixture of: vacuum cleaners, fish sticks, cigars, an Eddie Munster tee shirt, fighter planes, the San Jose Sharks, The Bible, some Klondike bars, a gecko, and many more things that seemingly don’t go together.
I still wasn’t getting it. Then I listened to the tape and it began to make sense.
I heard lots of flitters and flutters, glitching static, tribal singing, broken Commodore 64s, asymmetric loops, weird manipulation, field-recorded foley, possessed fax machines, turntables, 8 bit snare drums, vocoded spookiness, vacuum cleaners and every once in awhile, some chirping birds to calm my nerves.
I don’t really know what else to say. This thing is a mess! It’s just STUFF! It’s hectic, it’s chaotic and it makes no sense. I even played it for my grandmother and she didn’t seem to be enjoying it. I liked it though!!! And if you found this article, you might just be deranged enough to like it too.
Pick up a copy … oh wait, there’s none left. Tape prank! (I’m sure you can find it somewhere. Try, and try hard)
In 1991, Bob Lee wrote some algorithms in a programming language called Fourth on an old Atari 1040ST to generate musical notes. He dubbed the “performers” in his computer “The Technical Academy”. He then hooked up a Roland U-110 rackmount synth to his computer, sat back and hit the record button. The tape was released to his friends and family, most of whom laughed it off due its highly unconventional experimental nature.
Almost 25 years later, Fixture Records came across Lee’s Bandcamp page, got in touch with him and the rest is history. The recordings sure are kooky, and have a very atonal vibe to them, reminiscent of some of the early 20th century avant garde classical composers. Lots of chaotic timpanis, clarinets, saxophones, pianos, trumpets, violas… you name it. Of course the sound source is an old outdated digital synth, so there is a certain charm to hearing these very fake-sounding instruments. It reminds me a bit of Zappa’s work on the Synclavier, but whereas Zappa meticulously programmed the notes, Lee’s notes are generated with random number generators, and the resulting work differs quite clearly from Zappa’s.
I am compelled to talk about the presentation. I was QUITE pleased with this. The tape is pro-dubbed on a red cassette and has great liner notes that describes each track. I enjoyed reading the summary of each track before it played. Also included is a download card, a bØb postcard and a booklet of some of his source code. Additionally, we get a zine with an interview with bØb himself!
If you are one of the first 30 to buy this, you get a second tape which are recordings of Bob Lee from all the way back in 1969. This tape, titled “Electro Media Mix” is noisier and not at all similar to the aforementioned “Technical Academy” tape. It was created with a couple tape machines and a couple of Radio Shack “science kits” over 20 years before the “Technical Academy” was born.
I would say that both of these tapes would be great additions to the collections of fans of the more vintage flavor of experimental music. “The Technical Academy Plays -bØb-” is a C40 limited to 150 copies and available for $8.00 + shipping from Fixture Records. Thanks for the listens bØb!