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Listen: Global Ear St Louis tracks

August 2013

Listen to tracks by musicians featured in The Wire 355 Global Ear on St Louis, selected and annotated by its writer, Matthew Erickson.

Brain Transplant
"Live at Blank Space, 2.25.13"
These guys are pillars in the Noise/experimental scene and have been rattling around St Louis as a destructo-unit for a good decade and a half. This particular live iteration was made up of mainstays Chris Smentkowski and Ajay Khanna, though over the years they have folded the likes of sax titan Dave Stone (maybe the only reed player in America who can play standards in a restaurant quartet one night and blast Borbetomagus-style sax-noise-feedback the next), drum warrior Danny McClain, synth head Raglani and other shredders into the mix. Those larger group units usually work in the free-rock/out-jazz vein, with Smentkowski on gnarled guitar. This duo version was straight electronics and laptop frizzle. This was the short entirety of that set.

"Inexhaustible Host"
from Hunting The Bitter Rose
(Bezoar Formations)
Though she mainly operates in the shadows, Gwyneth Merner aka Byssus occasionally unveils new packages of fog-haze for live shows. Working with theremin, loops, occasional field recordings and assorted other technologies, she aspires for a Deep Listening mindstate within a Taj Mahal Travelers echo-field. Sometimes light float tones, other times heavy molten gut-churners. She excels in studio mode, though, where she can layer everything just to her exact specifications, as in this stellar piece.

Darin Gray
"Gateway For Phyllis Diller (Mouth Piece Study No.1)"
from Rhizomatic St Louis Vol 2
As one of the longtime figureheads in the St Louis scene with a slew of landmark bands/projects over the past two decades (see: Dazzling Killmen, Grand Ulena, Brise-Glace, On Fillmore, etc etc etc), Darin Gray is a go-to collaborator and improviser on bass, both in local and national/international contexts. The list of people he's played with is a wet dream for many a nerd: Loren Mazzacane Connors, Jim O'Rourke, Kevin Drumm, Merzbow, Ikue Mori, Will Oldham, etc etc etc. The man is a master of many modes. His Chikamorachi duo with Chris Corsano has come through town a couple of times in recent years, each gig a showcase for Fire Music telepathy and every imaginable drums/bass extended technique. This track, however, is Darin in solo mode, apparently using a mouthpiece and some other trickery. It's a warm drone bath of the deepest kind.

Ghost Ice
"Live at Apop, 8.2.11"
In the far reaches of the US underground, Jeremy Kannapell aka Ghost Ice is a bit of a legend. I've heard people whisper his name in reverence on the East and West Coasts, as well as several places in between. This is partly due to his aversion for recording, making him hard to trace and document, like the jackalope of experimental music. His outer realm live sets are what fuels this wildfire word of mouth, though. Brain joggling pans, buried Revue OU-styled vocalese, sparse and precise electronic whirring and squiggling, strange near-rhythmic pulses, among other hard to describe techniques, are in his mystery bag. Unlike many out there, Ghost Ice knows how to punctuate his sounds with silence, making the whole experience all that much more potent and disorienting. He's defined his own sound language, for sure. Kannapell is also a keen visual artist in the filmic and paper-based mediums, a noteworthy collagist of all stripes.

Global Distance
"In Common With The Arouser"
from The Death Of Nature Boy
(Human Conduct)
The duo of Rick Wilson and Rick Weaver couldn't have made more sense through only making nonsense. Wilson – of the long running cultic-psych scene-anchor weirdo band Skarekrau Radio as well as other Noise freak groups (Beauty Pageant, Perverted, etc) – and Weaver – of Dinner Music (psychedelic solo lounge music?) and Form a Log (best band in America?), among others – were a combo for the ages. Though Weaver recently moved to Chattanooga to open a tiki bar, Rick and Rick unleashed a demonic string of shows over a couple years. They weren't "shows" as much as strange vaudevillian free jazz with guttural catharsis, each one an act in ongoing absurdist theatre. Drums, tapes, electronics, and primal gaudy spectacle. I think I saw them use a box of neon-colored feather boas and an industrial fan to maximum effect once. This track is from their "realm play" called The Death Of Nature Boy, released as a tape on Weaver's own Human Conduct label.

Kevin Harris
"NI6B^RR [Food Poisoning]"
from Split w/NNN Cook
Kevin Harris might be a certified genius, though I don't know his actual Mensa score. Trained as a sculptor, he works as an electrical engineer by day and makes a crazy range of next-level modular synthesizer elaborations across the audio/visual spectrum the rest of the time. He is, like many others in STL, way too under documented. He plays out pretty frequently, in solo and collaborative ventures, and luckily for those of us who rabidly follow his shows like 1970s era Deadheads, every single performance is radically different. He has both the technical smarts and the aesthetic refinement to be able to make the most insanely abstract electronic tapestries on par with anything out of the INA/GRM. Each event is a glorious befuddlement-inducer; "what just happened?" is the common look on faces. He's been doing increasingly more work with video-synthesizers, light sensors and other things I don't understand, including spearheading a recent film and sound event at the Contemporary Art Museum that was an homage to Finnish electronic music pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi. Totally nuts.

Larva Lou
"TV Song"
After a long hibernation period, Larva Lou has been emerging into the light again as performer. She's long been a point lady for visiting out-of-towner weirdos hitting up STL on their tour routes, thus helping keep the place a necessary hub for visionary scuzzballs of all stripes. Her own jams have been spread out into mutant beat oriented stuff, Gothic Noise blasts and honest and pure fogged songsmithery. A show not too long ago saw her play a set in a lit-up camping tent in a dark and crowded basement. Who knows what was going on in that tent, but it sounded like decaying Gregorian chants and heavily reverbed string pointillism, so I'll take it.

"Blood Orange"
from Rhizomatic St Louis Vol. 2
I'm 99.9% sure that her parents weren't naming her after Conrad Schnitzler, but Connie Su aka Marble has a penchant for working in the same kind of zonked and dreamy keyboard/synth worlds as her predecessor. Con & Con would have been a dream collabo, no doubt. Marble has only been playing out for a little while and her recordings are scarce (for now), but she came out of the gates with fully formed notions on how to graft melodies onto electrical grids. Drum machines, tapes, vocals and occasional guitar are up in the mix at times, but the keyboard work is where the real strange heat lives. There is a definite lost Library Music/outsider-synth-pop vibe to her approach and it hits all the sweet spots you could ever want it to.

NNN Cook
"(Bl)end User A" (excerpt)
from (Bl)end User
(Bezoar Formations)
Full DiscIosure: I just put out a tape of NNN Cook computer music, so I'll just plagiarise my own writeup: "His prime vehicle for solo sound output over the years has been through his namesake NNN Cook project, which has been manifested largely through a long series of interconnected ritualistic live performances. In these small scale events, Cook employs multiple cheap tape recorders, handheld percussive gestures, wild saxophone skree, small motor elements and gut blossoming oscillators, while playing the full dynamics of a given room’s architectural constraints. The stage is everywhere and nowhere for the man. (Bl)end User is a significant departure from these concerns, as he dons the new coat of the weary techno-futurist. The approach here is pure electronic lab-work of the highest order [...] The effort doesn’t come across as computer music per se, more as a viscous pixelated syrup-mulch seeping into your inner ear."

"Outer Rim Territories"
Joseph Raglani has been cranking out laser beam precise modular synthesizer music for the past decade. The most outwardly visible practitioner in town, his work has found homes on both cottage industry tape labels and higher profile venues (with work on Editions Mego, Spectrum Spools, Kranky, et al). He's also been putting out split-personality pseudonymous albums for a little while now, each with their own fictional/non-fictional biographies, allowing the man to inhabit more varied approaches to electronic music than he might under his given name. Though it was released with little fanfare, his Mego album from last year (featuring retina splitting art by Jeremy Kanappell, naturally) was his best yet, perfectly blending classic synth frameworks with refined pop modes. This track is from a compilation album some years back, one that was kind of lost in the ether, so it's good to bring it to the light again.

For anyone interested in filmic proof of some wild performances, Chizmo TV is a necessary stopping point. Chad has the craziest spy-cam/live-edit/video feedback aesthetic and is a key documentarian.