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Feature Thu Nov 08 2007

Rebis Records: Celestial Attunement

Rebis Records is run by Jeremy Bushnell and Chris Miller, who also happen to form the label's flagship act, Number None. The two of them recently (June of this year) hosted the two-day Fugue State Festival at the Empty Bottle, showcasing nearly a dozen bands that fall under the loose rubric "drone." And that's what Rebis is all about as well.

The Rebis sound is varied, but largely extended in nature. In fact, their ongoing compilation series features "long-form works," with contributors being given as much as 15 minutes (and never less than seven!) of playtime to work their ethereal, reverberating magic. At the same time, I can think of few discs that even push the 70 minute mark here, proving that even in such endless states, the work of a good editor and sequencer should never be overlooked.

I worked at the Fugue State Festival, and for two nights, I became the hand that collects the money at the merch table (read: card table and folding chair over by the Ms. Pac Man machine). In exchange, the fellas kindly hooked me up with copies of the complete Rebis back-catalog. Vowing to make something useful out of this transaction, I took these 10 CDs, seven of them comprising the backbone of the current label roster (one tour-only CDr, one out of print CDr, and one 3" CDr by Number None not released on Rebis were omitted for time and space reasons, and I'm not talking about Doctor Who re-runs), and worked them over in a public forum for your approval.


So, without further ado:

Batch 1: Drone Overlords

Rebis Covers - figure 1

The Rebis 'core' recordings: clockwise from top left; Number None, Urmerica; Jazzfinger, Autumn Engines; My Cat Is An Alien, …ascends the sky; White/Light, s/t.

Number None, Urmerica CD

From the Peter Gizzi quote in the liner notes, to the red/blue collage of cultural detritus on the cover, to the album's title, this is something new - a drone album with context and cultural clues. Opening Title: "Suggestion for a New National Anthem," a plodding elegy for all the people and places in the great plain states that have "seen better days." Title: "Compression and Radiation," reverberating industrial poundings, impressions of half-alive factory towns viewed from the window of a rented car, passing quickly through. Title: "Dent Magic," a terse handshake between modern methods of sheet-metal excitation and the collage aesthetic of Nurse with Wound albums like Merzbild Schwet, a short track in which a far-off female voice intones "Staaaaaay Awaaaaaaay," while a cavernous room amplifies the sound of someone loading a reel-to-reel machine…or maybe a gun. Title: "Monster Lobe (Werewolf Corps Victory Theme)," fierce electronic strobings that sounds the alarm for the slumberous to rise. State of the union? Call to action? See "Wars of Armageddon" by Funkadelic for more information.

My Cat is an Alien: …ascends the sky CD

Reissue of a rare 2001 CDr by the Italian fraternal duo of Roberto and Maurizio Opalio. The first track is exclusive to this reissue, and sounds like the music-boxes of the spheres. It's a savory aperitif, but the real skull-drainer happens to be the first half of the album-length title track. A repeated guitar chord, sounding like Pink Floyd circa '74 between takes, fiddling with a melody in a £1,000-per-hour studio while EMI reps fiddle with their watches. The small melody is perfect. The room grows silent (it feels like your neighborhood does as well), listening, and then someone else helps out, adding incidental noises with whatever noisemakers, acoustic or electronic, are at hand. The mood deepens without having to change or progress, and the melody never changes as the minutes tick - it grows in power simply through duration and conviction. When the melody disappears, you miss the ground beneath your feet, but continue your journey without a body, drifting from event to event, and it is breathtaking, like time spent in a world without air current or ground. Brother Maurizio holds it down with curious vocals, singing lyrics by William Blake. Unfortunately, track 3 sets the controls for a one-way trip back to whiny-ville, as Brother Roberto keens through the three words of the title about FIFTEEN times in a row with the nuance of a dog-whistle. It's no issue, though…the first two tracks offer 45 minutes of superb space-out - anything more is just excessive anyway.

White/Light: s/t CD

Control and symmetry are the watchwords of this 5-song disc by the guitar/oscillator duo of Matt Clark and Jeremy Lemos. "Control" because of the focused pyrotechnics of their approach; their gestures are deployed over enormous canvasses, sparks gushing in slow-motion out of a hose, rather than spraying haphazardly like chintzy fireworks. The thick oscillators create a vision of end times at the hands of interplanetary messengers — the camera pulls back, back, showing huge cities toppling in fire and ruin, the stately first track sounding like the Earth's moment of realization, nations turning their eyes to the sky, frozen with awe at the visage of 20,000 feet tall overlords looming in the sky above. The half-hour track that stands in the middle of the disc actually peaks right around mid-point (symmetry!), the forward rush easing off enough to indulge some Fripp-ish moments of elegy at minute 20, like one last glimpse of the sun before a cloud of smoke blackens the sky for good. In fact, the whole album kind of reads like a modern-day take on the Fripp & Eno pairing of the '70s, mingled with images of greasy truckers and psychedelic overlords on a photo set filled with mirrors. The muted tone of the cover didn't fill me with much hope, but this is a sleeper favorite in the Rebis stable. SUNN 0))) fans, do not hesitate.

Jazzfinger: Autumn Engines CD

I've gotta warn you…this record is dirty. And I don't mean dirty like Richard Pryor, I mean dirty like untended rain gutters. Hasan Gaylani and Ben Jones, both of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England (also home to Venom, a band you should really be listening to right this moment), revel is a level of fidelity lovingly placed somewhere between "morse code emanating from a sinking ship," and "turn-of-the-century harpsichord music inscribed onto shellac'd cardboard." I say none of this to dissuade you, but as a vague caveat. Believe it or not, the crap-fi atmosphere does not blunt the impact, but focuses it. Beautiful melodies float through, particularly when played on violin, in tracks like "Touch Nothing Never Nowhere," and "There Are Four Arms Enfolding You and These Bells are Air." Elsewhere (opening and closing tracks "The Day," and "Memory of the Day"), tapes of female Hindustani classical vocalists mangle their way through rusty Dictaphones with damaged play heads, recorded at fidelity levels that resemble the inside of a barn during a rainstorm. The effect is one of shrouded mystery, ancient artifacts, distress signals carried through long distance. 66 minutes is a bit much, but honestly, every track yields fruit, so I wouldn't want the unenviable job of picking what stays and what goes. To these ears, this is the label's pinnacle recording, and is recommended without any hesitation. Forget that caveat above…it's been rescinded.

Second batch: Pushing to the Outer Edge

Rebis Covers - figure 2

From top left: Time and Relative Dimensions in Space compilation; Lead into Gold 2CD compilation; Roy Montgomery, Inroads 2CD.

V/A: Time and Relative Dimensions in Space CD

This is the first in an ongoing series of compilations that let participants lay out their wares for a healthy 7-14 minute time span. Number None play a tug of war between clean and dirty drones, some created (via electronics), some invoked (via attacked guitar strings). Skaters provide a textbook example of what can go wrong with a long track: a cavernous, desolate mood is established in the first three minutes, like the entrance to a mummy's tomb. Unsure of their own powers, though, they feel compelled to "progress" the track via the use of crappy hand-drums and tootling flute. It's fine, but the entranceway promised a much scarier house of horrors. Jim Haynes skids around on the laptop, mostly dodging the standard laptop tricks (context-less clicks and micro-events; the ever-dreaded "granular syntesis") for a tidy composition of sandpaper dreams. Still smells like 1998 in there, though. My Cat is an Alien, much like the opening track on their full-length above , use un-amplified guitars and junkshop rattlers to evoke Gepetto's Outer Space Toy Factory via audio — I am beginning to fear that my purposeful embargo on this band (due to their enormous, album-a-week discography) may have been grossly inappropriate. Taurpis Tula sound like a prematurely dark and cloudy 7pm Friday night, fogged from the week, neurons in your head making vague breathy sighs into your liver. You're obligated to go out, but you'd just rather melt on the couch.

Taken as a whole, Time and Relative Dimensions is strong, largely tasteful and interesting, but not terribly varied; fortunately, the follow-up will rectify all.

V/A: Lead Into Gold 2CD

This time, make mine a double. A 2CD comp, building on the planet-swallowing majesty of Time and Relative Dimensions, but with double the length and quadruple the variety.

Disc One: Zoo Wheel (Liz Payne)'s opener soothes and somnambulates, like "Music for 18 Musicians" imagined by the Penguin Café Orchestra, all strummed guitars, bells, clinkers, and rubber bands. Only it's not guitars; instruments (all played by Payne, presumably not all at once) include "violin, bells, triangle, snare, vox, harmonica." Biota drop by in spirit partway through to offer some special reverb brownies they baked earlier.

Loren Chasse, formerly of Id Battery, uses his new project (the "who's on first?"-like project name Of) to create the most musty, pungent, pitch-dark-at-3pm-in-the-deep-woods atmosphere I've heard in some time. I swear, it was like the sun went behind a bank of clouds, with inappropriately large flocks of swooping birds circling my head, caws carrying long distances in chilled air, crunch of downed branches everywhere. Desolate beyond any actual experience, but still lifelike. The final four minutes are by Ohv, a duo of Chassse and Christine Boepple which sounds like it sourced the first seven minutes and folded it into an inconsequential four minute guitar noodle. Waiter, could you bring me some editing when you get the chance, please?

Gray Field Recordings offer us "19 tracks of bowed acoustic guitar, rusty grinder and children," and all three perform admirably. The grinder evokes a jailer fumbling keys in the lightless depths of the oubliette; the intoning children suggesting ancestors in their youth; the guitars impressively simulate a whole string section, with highs, middles, and lows all doing their own thing. Too short by half — it's only 7 minutes long, one of the shortest tracks on this comp.

Son of Earth pull a few above-average sounds and moments out of an otherwise undifferentiated drone construction. I wanted to like it because of the Matt Krefting connection (his recent cassette is where it's at, kid), but I want to like olives out of the jar, too, and that ain't happening.

Birds of Delay trod well-worn ground. If you've heard Vibracathedral Orchestra, Sunroof!, Tony Conrad, LaMonte Young, Theater of Eternal Music, etc., you've heard this. It follows in the stead of the masters, but does so with gusto.

Disc 2: White/Light drift through multiple phases, including stand-in-the-rain-with-my-electric-guitar wipeout, oscillator combat, and joyous acoustic reverie, while making 14 minutes fly by effortlessly, which is nice, as the duration of this set is starting to get to me a little.

Keenan Lawler's "resonator guitar" acts like a listless hand-job: it gets the job done after 14 AGONIZING minutes, but is otherwise totally unremarkable. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

At seven and a half minutes, Bruce Russell's track could again stand to be doubled, even though it doesn't fit the tone of the comp. Using magnetic tape and digital processing, Russell creates a perfect simulation of the best hypothetical track on any number of obscure 1986 tape compilations, reversed and nasty, haphazardly edited (by design) and thuggish in form and content.

Bird Show & Lichens get sweaty and humid, pounding the hand drums and moaning, bloodlust rising and falling, journey wending deeper into the river. I think this is what Skaters were going for in the track on the previous comp. I would have tagged this for the final track instead of the 14 minute cool-down from the pretentiously-named but musically reasonable The Opera Glove Sinks in the Sea, 14 minutes of deep-sea feel-up for Theremin and computer. Not bad.

It's a great sequencing job the Rebis boys did with this - there's plenty of contrast from end to end, and the comp's two hour running time never truly drags, with even the underwhelming tracks being ultimately listenable, something you definitely couldn’t say about most your average 1986-era tape compilations.

Roy Montgomery: Inroads 2CD

A luxurious two hours-plus of four-tracked homemade guitar tapestries, largely recorded in New York by the six-string samurai from New Zealand whose resume includes the legendary Pin Group (1981) and Dadamah (1985), lovingly divided into one disc of "smooth sailing" and a disc of "bumpy travels." (The discs are labeled "Paved" and "Unpaved.")

The overall mood of many tracks, particularly on the "paved" disc, is muted elation. The approach reminds me more than a little of the "midnight blues" of Loren Mazzacane Connors, but not so morose or isolated. At the same time, this transcends the frenzied strum and easy-flameout of (then) contemporaries like Flying Saucer Attack or Crude. Montgomery balances a melodic sensibility resembling My Bloody Valentine onto the more-or-less textbook "record a track, play it back, record another on top until saturation and/or nirvana is attained" method of guitar web-slinging to create something as cautiously optimistic as John Fahey's "On the Sunny Side of the Ocean" without sounding anything like him, or any other finger-picker. The invention of the guitar's lead-lines is truly instinctual and idiomatic (I almost think I kind of have to play the Eddie Hazel card, even if the two sound nothing at all alike!), but there's also very little folk or roots here - if you dig back into this music, you find Felt and Durutti Column and Young Marble Giants at its core, not Blind Anyone Something-or-Other. That's why the attempt at drawing a line between this and New Weird America/"Acid Folk" types feels suspect. Yes, this is passionate, and yes, it's self-created and spontaneous, but it's also musty and crusty and smells only of tobacco - the kind you can buy over the counter. When things get really unpaved and a rudimentary band is added, you don't hear the Dead, but Joy Division. When viewed from that angle, Unpaved shines like a single beam of sunlight through thick curtains. As the light gets shorter and the days get colder, these discs should be as ubiquitous on your coffee table as that fast-dwindling bottle of Makers.

Rebis Records can be bought at local independent record stores, or through their website. MP3 samples (including out of print releases)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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