Saturday, April 20, 2013

TIMR 6: taming power tapes

A shelf of cassettes - 40 altogether.

In 2003 I received my first (unsolicited) package from Askild Haugland, from Norway, accompanied by a personally typed letter. It was one of the many pleasures of reviewing that people entrusted their music to me, and that I got the opportunity to be regularly surprised.

Askild records as Taming Power and releases on his own Early Morning Records. Except for a couple of compilation 7" records, all the material on the label has come from Askild,  and I think (again, except for a compilation) this is the sole media for Taming Power.

Since then I have had the privilege of getting all of the Taming Power releases. It includes these 40 tapes and 19 vinyl disks (7", 10" and 12"). The only CD is a promotional copy of a compilation TP appeared on. So why is this important to me?

Before talking about the music there are some aspects that underlie the appeal of Taming Power:
First, the adherence to 'old' technology resonates with me - you are limiting your audience but being true to yourself. Some of the cassettes were editions of 12 and up to 20. With trhe vinyl the issues have got larger partly reflecting the economic realities of disk production, and unfortunately that has also made it harder to Askild to keep releasing material.
Then there is the look - EMR has a house design based on Askild's writing, layout and (in mnay cases) photography.Vinyl releases have images which until the last few were pasted onto the front and back. The back cover includes details of the recordings and the instruments. In the cassette days, again the covers were individually designed (you can't tell in the photo, but the spines of each release have a different calligraphic-like work on them. The inside cover has all the details again. Inside the folded cover, though is a set of images (the same size as the cover) like a small pack of cards. For EMR cassette release #1 (1997) this include forests, a bird of paradise, B&W reproductions of colonial photos and electronics diagrams. In #39 (2001) the cover folds out with images of a glass roof and the inserts are processed colour photos. Other releases have Askild's drawings, more photography and found images. (Tape 40 is a later compilation of outtakes from EMR 10"-010)
Finally; I noted the details on the back - an Askild is meticulous in documenting his works. They are tape looped pieces and for each we know the instruments and equipment used, and also the dates for the final master and the components that have been used to make it . These have got more detailed over time: so on EMR 10"-005 the tracks are simply named by their date (eg 3-5 on side 1 are all 4-10-1998) by 10"-010 each of the tracks on side 2 has 2 dates (eg 17-9-01VII/9-7-02IV) indicated record and mix dates. The most recent (EMR 2x12" - 018: a double album, and you may have noticed the catlogue number includes the media size) has tracks like the third on side 3 where there are 3 dates in the title, but then a complex, bracketted list of 17 dates/recordings which led to the final 26-6-09. I have to admire and respect someone who has this focus on their music making.

So - the music. The various releases come in two naming formats: one is basically descriptive Six pieces, Selected works 1992-98, Autumn works 2002. But others are more specifically descriptive For electric guitar and tape recorders, 16 movements for electric guitar.(Some vinyl are rereleases of cassette material)

And this is what really impresses me about Askild. He has used tape recorders and cassette recorders as tools and instruments and found a way of working with them, using his guitar and a developing array of other instruments (the radio, resonant bowls, casiotones, the voice). The resulting oeuvre is surprisingly varied within the selfimposed constraints. There are guitar solos with a classic simplicity of melody line, complex layered and looped pieces that develop a drone ambience, passages of noise, guitar pieces that are layered and modulated through the tape (no effects other than distortion and delay): in short a voice that is distinctive and also very satisfying. I have (I am afraid) digitised the lot and can happily put on any of them and enjoy the works. And can happily recommend (and have) any or all of them.

And as I sit here the tapes are down to my left, the records are behind me, and a selection of images that Askild sent me separately sit in a frame on the bookcase, changed regularly.

But the final thing, why the collection gets on this list, is that I think I am the only person (or one of a maximum of 12 people, based on the smallest tape release) who has a complete collection of this material. I am humbled to realise that Askild was willing to send halfway round the world not only the original releases on vinyl for review, but then entrust the cassette collection to me.

Taking the sentiment from the start of this further, since the early days of the internet which I was lucky enough to be part of (I remember FTP, the text based pages, the first browsers with images and the massive growth since) the connections between people in disparate parts of the world sharing information, music, passions has been amazing. This collection - along with others that will pop up on TIMR remind me of these long distant friendships and interactions

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