No One Will Ever Know: Flowers in the Sky turns 12 [The Grass is Green in the Fields for You 2020]

The Cat’s Miaow “From my Window” [Toytown 1993]

First suggestion: haunting is historical, to be sure, but it is not dated, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order or a calendar. Untimely, it does not come to, it does not happen to, it does not befall, one day …

— Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx 1

Delving back into the twee punk of our youth may seem counterintuitive during these times, yet at its most utilitarian, the music employs the blind optimism and mistruths of pop culture to burrow into the cracks. Inside the degraded adhesive of its pastel pink wallpaper, this sardonic exposé jangling out of a near-past body politic warrants revisiting. As illness metaphorises 2 across broken system after broken system; lo-fi outsider punk, C86, jangle, the paisley underground and related scenes from Glasgow to Auckland in the 1980s and 1990s portray a ruinous background, fattened into an omnipresent blob: not only from the onset of neoliberalism, but across its hideous maturation.

In our psychosomatic archives, it’s an act of play to connect the dots of what we were exposed to as tweens – in my case Flying Nun Records and the likes of the Dead C in New Zealand, Sarah Records and Glaswegian groups like The Pastels – to an increasing crop of likeminded bands we’re only hearing now due to reissues and browsing internet hall-of-mirror hellholes; Entlang, Toyland Tapes, The Kiwi Animal, Peter Wright’s Aotearoa lathe cuts, Peter Jeffries’ solo records, et al. My therapist advocates to get back in touch with our inner-child, and well, it feels wunderbar.

Tracing back to scenes we never encountered alongside those we may have participated in through online marketplaces masquerading as archives (Discogs, YouTube, Spotify, etc.) – whether in a wallow of nostalgia or otherwise – secludes us in a full-scale consumption-utopia predicted in The Society of the Spectacle 2. This isolation, as further flirted with in a lockdown, deflates our ontological sensations in its projection of spectral remnants of media and experiences onto Retina Displays displaying the eradication of our collective convening-energy. While marginal spaces are displaced, erased and reassembled into immaterial liminal coordinates in a server farm, the noise continues, but without the transpiration of gloaming escape or the peeling back of the hegemony’s scales. The master may have disrobed, but now he wears our clothes.

In Glasgow, as with a few other fortunate slabs scattered across the wastelands, we at least have spaces that very crucially and articulately counter the novel and distinct realms of separation and disembodiment we currently find ourselves in; providing outlets to climb out from the heap of streamable detritus. The Grass is Green in the Fields for You (TGIGITFFY), a small press/music publisher and its Subcity Radio offshoot Flowers in the Sky (FinS) occupy and share such spaces.

Printmaker, designer and Vital Idles drummer Matthew Walkerdine runs TGIGITFFY, while also organising Good Press alongside bandmates Jessica Higgins, Nick Lynch and a community of volunteers. Discussing Good Press is better left aside for another post – their role in providing space, materials and resources to local artists and eccentrics deserves more than a line or two. But for quick context, the nonprofit storefront not only carries artist-made ephemera from zines, chapbooks, prints, cassettes and other objects; it also houses Sunday’s Print Service for public risograph printing, the ‘Occupancy’ residence programme and events. Pertinent to this column was The History Of installation in 2013, which featured cassette compilations and writings from a group of artists and record labels.

As for FinS, the Subcity radio show started transmitting last year, and yet after only a dozen episodes Matthew kindly duplicated in mono and assembled the No One Will Ever Know mixtape, releasing it for a magnanimous £3 (the price of postage, or a jar of peanut butter). I mention the price as retort to the scabs on Discogs who sell rare punk tapes at extortionate prices. To put the gesture of the mixtape in context, I’ve broadcast nearly 40 instalments of There Is No There There (also on Subcity), I run a cassette label, and although I regularly make mixtapes, I have never made a gift for the show’s listeners. The mix’s accompanying letter echoes the same care directed into the show, reminding me of a time when independent and pirate radio wasn’t merely to promote club nights, for the sake of so-called selection/curation or as cultural capital dangling from social media feeds, but rather to reinforce the medium as conveyer of a message of community solidarity, however naively utopian – something to break through the desolation inside the advances of communication capitalism 3.

Letter accompanying No One Will Ever Know

As I’m nudging into nostalgic territory – a deplorable place to land, though it often can’t be helped, merely diagnosed – FinS and No One Will Ever Know transmit an effectual/affectual balance between underground ‘classics’ and contemporary lineations and detours; traversing shoegaze, the ever fertile and peculiar kiwi scene & its plump neighbouring island, post-punk, outsider CDr folk, dream pop, the more punk tinges of British art rock, et al. This inter-generational geology of outsider sounds isn’t banally compartmentalised as a timeline; but ricochets, so that the timelessness of a song written last week informs/deforms a song from decades ago and vice versa. The phenomenological temporality of the cover’s handless clock evokes a double entendre eliciting that the slow cancellation of the future 4 not only regurgitates the past, it understands full well, these partials and traces from the 20th Century, the dust continuing to accumulate, are here to loiter across the chain of presents.

1 Derrida, Jacques. “Injunctions of Marx.” Specters of Marx, Routledge, 1994, pp. 3.

2 Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977.

3 Dean, Jodi. Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Duke University Press, 2009.

4 Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, 2014.

Merula – Sleep [Men Scryfa 2020]

Merula’s “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”

Because I am a fresh dew woman, says
I am a moist dew woman, says
I am the woman of the dawn, says
I am the woman of the day, says
I am the saint woman, says
I am the spirit woman, says
I am the woman who works, says
I am the woman beneath the dripping tree, says
I am the woman of the twilight, says
I am the woman of the pristine huipil, says
I am the whirlpool woman, says […]
I am the daughter of Mary

— María Sabina ¹

Sleep awakens with the clunk of a tape player set to record. Tape passes across the heads. Here are the songs of sparrows; beautiful interruptions to convent solitude. Alone and in sisterhood, like other interactions in the cloister. The sparrows are reminiscent to arias I once heard spilling out of patio gardens in Oaxaca’s Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena. Perhaps the birds were recorded from a room with an open window; their texture originates in the background, but releases into the foreground. An innominate rendition of Tarquinio Merula’s (c. 1595–1665) “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire” begins to lift and lilt. A simple cello rhythm in the lower register enters, followed by unobtrusive guitar and the devotional Latin lullaby of the Madonna cooing her Christ-child to slumber.

The recording’s anonymity veils its performers, setting and era: hymnal voices as nameless and dispersed as the birds. Its chameleonic nature evokes an archival field recording of unknown date, likely captured around dawn or dusk, until contemporary traffic noise bleeds in, smudging its temporality.

On second thought it’s a digital recording, which nullifies the opening paragraph. The sibilant transients are merely the cassette; the carrier not the original recording.

Microphone handling noise, passersby, phase processing and digital tape delay meddle with the fib of the artefact – truths and untruths funnelled into uniformity – deepening the incidentals rather than dividing the native from the processed, as would be the case with a dubbed version, which in vague instances the laissez-faire non-production mimics. The consecrated emanations transcend a desire to translate, while the inalienable omniscience of the sacred engulfs faithlessness. Yet in its embrace of melancholia, temporal existentialism continues to reside: mother as comforter and silent mourner – aiding her child to sleep into the tide of death’s eventuality.

Over the first few listens I struggled to get through more than a few moments in trepidation of its otherworldly rapture. I succumbed. As with ecclesiastical, Quranic and appropriations of the holy – such as the Adhan, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares ², Georgian polyphonic singing and Current 93’s “The Long Shadow Falls” ³ – this version of “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire,” particularly with its sparse effects in tow, impressively blurs the boundaries of the secular and the sacred to keep the tired dichotomy down.

“Dags Att Sova”, the only composition of the b-side, responds to “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”; slightly more electrified, disquieting, telluric and with an English translation, which as noted, feels unnecessary. Without the sparrows for accompaniment, vocalists Eva[?] and Thomas Bush seesaw before being swept away by an elegiacal and piercing organ. Eva’s voice returns without Bush. At the foreboding climax she recites “take this milk that I offer you / from this immaculate breast / savour the warmth of the sweetness / for it will not last.”

¹ Sabina, Maria, et al. “The Life.” María Sabina: Selections, University of California Press, 2003, pp. 40.

² “Marcel Cellier Présente: Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares ‎– Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (Volume 1).” 1975.

³ Current 93. “Where The Long Shadows Fall (Beforetheinmostlight).” Dutro, 1995.

Laila Sakini – Your Day is My Night [PP TT 003 2020] Laila Sakini & Lucy Van – Figures [PP TT 001 2017]

Stars around the beautiful moon / hide back their luminous form / whenever all full she shines on the earth / Silvery.

— Sappho ¹

Excerpt from “Your Day”

Mixtapes are inherently Sapphic in their fragmentary insertion and omission of sonic extracts, frail reproductions, emotional spectres teleported from sender to receiver; the clippings, drawings and collage of folded paper, and the inclusion or exclusion of tracklists and notes. Like reassembling the words and vignettes of poems from disintegrating papyrus, mixtapes expose clues out of the redactions of time and space. Conflicting intimacies and distances concentrated in a small object unfurl into a room or the cocoon of a car’s interior ² — all for the sake of fragmentation and a splintering ³ of missed and retrieved messages.

A tension of coldness and warmth pervades mixtapes released on cassette labels. The consumer/receiver rarely knows the artist and usually the artist isn’t transmitting information to anyone in particular, merely a sparse group of collectors. The tape is more commodity than gift; nevertheless the materiality of the process, its arrival at a destination and whatever (shelf)life the object takes offers something more singular than a typical mix streamed on a market-driven platform or online radio station.

Laila Sakini’s Your Day is My Night mixtape on Purely Physical Teeny Tapes eludes the tropes that commonly compartmentalise mixes. In lieu of such trappings an affectual stream eclipses stylistic pinnings with neither side feeling futuristic or referential to the past — bringing a full-circle against the grains of style to its close. The A-Side, “Your Day” draws deeply into a stretch of solace and space. Spiritual jazz instrumentation provides textural motion in place of genre nods, before an outgrowth of drum sequencing patters into more synthesised pastures. The side’s closing moments stretch back across a plateaux of space, yet more fertile, moist and subterranean than the airiness of the opening segments.

On the flip-side, “My Night” momentarily carries over the ending passage of “Your Day”, before ricocheting back into kineticism. Mangled vocals that seem to call out from a vessel in the Indian Ocean delineate a grid, giving way to a sludge of rhythms — the digestion of lotus-eaters. “My Night” has a more smudged and grubby energy, like a car with an insect splattered windshield mainlining into the Tropic of Cancer.

“Those Who See” from Laila Sakini & Lucy Van’s Figures [PP TT 001 2017]

Purely Physical Teeny Tapes’ inaugural cassette features a bed of Sakini’s drifting compositions set to the nonchalant voice of Australian poet Lucy Van. The tape comes packaged in a plastic drug baggy, much like /\\Aught’s eleven tapes of unparalleled grainy particle techno (2014 – 2017). The entirety of Figures oozes with cloud-like pads, fizzling drum machines and meandering poetry, but I’ll merely focus on the opener “Those Who See”.

The extended poem arrives somewhere between Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson. It’s riddled with twisted ironies and sardonic deadpan humour, like “in your communist fantasy all is taken from me / all our enemies in an orgy of IQ to body ratio, of IQ to body radio.” I particularly relish the menagerie of husbands in circulation amid the unfolding of the non-narrative. “My husband is a weight lifter. Each morning I fill his Tupperware with meat patties. He lifts my weights to his mouth. Chewing through spit, my husband is a dentist, all swagger and sweet skin in a white suede coat, pulling debris from under my gums. Forcing my tongue against my teeth, I sound silly when I talk.” “Those Who See” closes on a germane warning as “the working class and immigrants yell for no reason: you are who you pretend to be. Be careful who you pretend to be.”

¹ “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.” If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, by Sappho and Anne Carson, Virago, 2003, pp. 68–69.

² Bijsterveld, Karin, et al. Sound and Safe: a History of Listening behind the Wheel. Oxford University Press, 2014.

³ P-Orridge, Genesis Breyer. “The Splinter Test.” Book of Lies – the Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult, edited by Richard Metzger, Disinformation Company, 2014.

LST – Hard Drive Vinegar Vol. 1 [Self-Released C32 2020]

3-panel j-card
A2 “One of th Blue Holes”

How can a preservation engineer possibly begin with anything other than a k7 ¹ called Hard Drive Vinegar Vol. 1? It’s the latest tape to pass through my letterbox — but besides its newness, cassette binders are polyester-based and never acetate — thus it’s safe to assume it doesn’t reek of herring gull beak, albeit they are circling. There is something acidic about the nine track collection, not as acid techno, but rather auto-catalytic, like acetic acid accelerating the decay process ².

LST (Tarquin Manek) has released a slew of donked-up tapes under various guises and as part of the trio F Ingers; via Night People, the recently deceased Blackest Ever Black, and Australian labels Another Dark Day and Chapter Music. As the title suggests, Hard Drive Vinegar contains material that rotted inside Manek’s hard drive from 2009 – 2019. Its decade timespan is surprising for such a cohesive work, especially with a geographic spread of recording at home in Australia and after relocating to Berlin. One of its enigmatic charms lies in how it seems to disregard time and place in favour of its own conformity; especially pertinent now while concepts like distance and closeness are both futile and ever-blending together in omnipresence. Distant like our next-door neighbours hemmed in and invisible, who are as close as those in other communities, cities and continents. As the hourglass marks the disappearance of time in one realm to record its swelling growth in its subterranean other, the belly of the infinity sign rotates upwards.

Hard Drive Vinegar sits somewhere between noise and ambient while transcending as neither. It rattles out loner beats, the occasional extinguished vocal sample or a dried up stream of radio static, billowing gently across a torn canopy of sporadic and disturbing synths, emptying itself in anticipation of another tranquil or unsettling pouring-out. It absorbs space negligibly, circulating it and returning it unconsumed. Such peculiar pacing is sardonically comforting during the lockdown. Like the streets, quieting and disquieting, the tape offers the compression and rarifaction of a vague anxiety building up and releasing.

¹ French slang for cassette, as in kah-sept.

² Casey, Mike. “2.3.5 Vinegar Syndrome (VS).” FACET: Format Characteristics and Preservation Problems Version 1.0, Indiana University, 2007, p. 33.

Introducing Oxide Ostrich: A K7 Column

Counter-memory is a practice that questions traditions of memory and attends to voids and gaps in narratives ¹. If memory is a construction, counter-memory is an alternative political construction, a montage of facts, objects, dreams, expectations, shadows and spectres.

— Lisa Baraitser Enduring Time ²

While we as an archive and society adjust to the imperativeness of social distancing and the existentialism of the home as confinement, I have shifted from preservation engineering and being alongside magnetic tape at the National Library of Scotland to the comforts, quandaries and cells of cataloguing long strips of VHS audio (6-8 hours per tape). In the intervening period our relationship with physical and digital material will manifest altered meanings and relevancies while our senses run amok across truncated domestic spaces. A poetics will emerge across a plurality of emotional terrains marked by immense hardships and transformative realisations, and for many of us, the hope of a less selfish and petty future. We have entered into a space Baraitsir poignantly mapped in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic in her seminal book Enduring Time, through her reflections on an elongated present and as the poet Denise Riley ³ relates, as living in a “great circle without a rim” rather than a linear entity hurtling forward.

Surrounded in this circle with a vague horizon, I’ll be ruminating on my dormant work with archival magnetic tape and connecting it to a separate but related interest in a weekly column on forthcoming, recent and not so recent cassette releases. I intend to heed the contemporary, but the circle requires drawing from the past to inform the present; if this is the archivist in me quivering in the corner, please shrug it off. 

Through Unlocking Our Sound Heritage my team’s work predominantly focuses on the preservation and eventual online access of unpublished sound carriers. In the meantime, without proximity to collection material, this weekly write-up will grow out of another type of unlocking – in the company of a shrunken and often eccentric community of reclusive, but occasionally social musicians (i.e. utilising the cassette as a social carrier), lo-fi recordists, printmakers, collage and postal artists, tape-heads and outsiders enamoured by the intimate materiality of the cassette and its connective and enticingly paradoxical qualities. 

The outsider cassette scene – although the format was invented in 1963 – burst-open in the late-1970s when experimental punk and electronic artists around the world blew the lid off of a conservative music industry clinging to the budding hegemony of neoliberalism. Throughout this column I will refrain from referring to the cassette community and its output through the media’s construction of a cassette revival – this lazy assessment sheds very little light on the music and its wider cultural, political and historical footings. Even when reviewing landmark tape releases (1977-1995), which continue to push the envelope, I will circumvent nostalgia, abstain from eclipsing the present through eulogising the past and avoid commemorating the retro. The onset of 1980s omni-capitalism, material superabundance, mass reproduction, environmental carelessness and its continuing spawn are ripely pertinent to this story, but not through the vestigial romanticism of re-inflating the aesthetics of the decade; rather these extremities and sociopolitical fissures impelled artists to burrow under the surface in dedication to art practices for smaller audiences (often only their immediate communities) and non-market purposes over the excessiveness of reaching people and capital as one and the same. Likewise, participation in the outsider cassette scene offers a praxis of counter-memory and counter-history ⁴. In this spirit, the column is concerned with the underground, its resilience and ongoingness, its pertinence today, its elasticity and noise within the walls of the current crisis and its dream of the collective over the individual, as the late Mark Fisher conceptualised in the posthumous manifesto Acid Communism ⁵. This column is about how people persist in the sharing of recorded material across alternate spaces, economies and power structures. Simply, it’s the cassette’s place across small-scale movements; from correspondence art to post-Fordist capitalist deconstructionism told through a different tape release each week.  

¹ Ahıska, Meltem. “Occidentalism and Registers of Truth: The Politics of Archives in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 34, 2006, pp. 9–29.

² Baraitser, Lisa. Enduring Time. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

³ Riley, Denise. Time Lived, without its Flow. Capsule Editions, 2012.

⁴ Foucault, Michel. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History.” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Cornell University Press, 1977.

⁵ Fisher, Mark. “Acid Communism.” K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004 – 2016), Repeater, 2018, pp. 751–770.