Good Area’s debut LP on Kye Records, French Antarctica, was one of the few albums from last year that had us completely baffled; yet it somehow left us utterly intrigued and wanting to hear more. This Philadelphia-based duo used an open mic, room sound approach to capture their homespun jam sessions that found them exchanging wandering guitar lines, wheezy cornet blurts, shortwave radio interferences, and crude tape manipulations around the directional pull of cheap rhythm box beats. It’s a sound and approach that is rooted in the more far-flung corners of early DIY cassette culture – one that the duo describes as being “fake free music or inept prog”. Subsequent tape releases on their own Vitrine imprint and their recent Kye follow-up 7” EP, “Cubic Zirconia” b/w “Bad Karlshafen”, finds the duo refining and expanding on their full-length effort by adding more noticeable elements of sound poetry into the mix. We recently had a chance to ask Allen and Gabi of Good Area some questions about the music they are making together, and they also we were kind enough to put together a special mix for us, complete with detailed notes, that reflects some of their shared listening interests.
FFF: What was the impetus for you and Gabi starting to record together as Good Area? Had both of you been working on music prior to this? If I have my facts straight, Allen, weren’t you involved in a group called Twin Stumps?
Allen: Gabi and I initially connected through our shared interests and similar temperaments. Good Area grew out of our natural rapport and also as a direct response to conversations we had regarding art and music. With our initial recordings, we aimed to create a sound which was site-specific and domestic. We didn’t have a practice space, so it was only sensible to incorporate our home into the recordings we made. It is important to both of us that Good Area exists in a dialogue with the music and art from the past which has inspired us, while steering clear of a more insipid turn at nostalgic futurism. Gabi and I yearned for a music which continued the legacy and methodology of the subterranean art we both cherished.
I often think back to a night spent drinking and listening to records in New York. Die Todliche Doris’ Uber-Doris was playing. My friend believed that it wouldn’t be possible to create music like that today. I took that as a personal challenge – why not? The political and historical context is obviously different, but a connection can and should be made.
I played guitar in Twin Stumps a couple years ago, but that was a group effort and a creatively democratic endeavor. Good Area has more to do with my experience studying and writing poetry than my previous musical work. I was involved in music prior to Good Area, but this is my first mature go at it. To this day I have no technical skill. The work is conceptual and discursive. More importantly, Good Area is what Gabi and I would like to hear once the needle drops on vinyl, when the tape begins to play. Good Area allows Gabi and I to create music we find engaging without any compromise. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to do so.
Gabi: I have no previous experience making music. I began playing cornet specifically for Good Area. We are often spurred into making work through the discussion of meaning in music and art – we are interested in positing responses to small questions or comments we have in our own listening experiences. Good Area is about intellectual detail carried out by dull means.
FFF: With your French Antarctica LP, and perhaps your other recent cassette and 7″ output, was the idea to capture certain moments of pure instantaneous creation, while forgoing matters of post-production, etc?
Allen: I’m hesitant to couch Good Area’s output in terms like instantaneous creation, as that smacks of an intuitive grasp at expression. Good Area creates artificial music. The conceit is to approach something akin to Selten Gehorte Musik’s 3. Berliner Dichterworkshop 12./ 13.7.73 – the sound of a microphone in a room and attendant actions. I hope Good Area exudes some of the same nihilistic tomfoolery of the best Fluxus recordings. Both French Antarctica and Dilettante Cassette attempt to document the sound occurring in a specific space, our living room, while something approaching music occurs. It never arrives at music, but pretends well enough to get through the door. That’s the conceit, and it remains a mere conceit, a fallacy. The recording isn’t serendipitous or accidental, but premeditated and deliberate. The recording itself is the third guest to a two-man party. We’ve called Good Area fake free music and inept prog. These categories divert from the actual sound while also clarifying the intent, or at least the compulsion. It also adds to the fun.
I’m not interested in post-production at this time. We have increasingly been utilizing prerecorded material in Good Area, but this material is played alongside live instrumentation. Cubic Zirconia replicates and refines the sound of French Antarctica, but by different means. Whereas the LP consists of a roving improvisation, the 7” is composed of prerecorded tapes of guitar being played in tandem. The guitar has been discorporated. Whereas I used to play guitar, I’m now triggering the sound of a dematerialized guitar. The material on an upcoming tape release is similarly dissociative. All you’re left with is tape.
Gabi: We’re both fans of the pranksterism of Fluxus, because to trick someone or do something ridiculous is to get someone on guard, and when a person is on guard they’re analyzing and experiencing a circumstance much more closely than if one is simply regarding an artwork. Ideally, the end result is that one will look at all works of art with the same heightened critical awareness. An example of a recent encounter of this type came with the Robert Filliou LP Greetings from ‘L’, We Are All Green on Slowscan (bought from the new Hanson records storefront in Oberlin!). The record is him repeating the same few stanzas for two full sides, but as I listened I became aware that the record was cutting and repeating and had hit a deep groove. A few moments later, the same thing happened. The record was mint and looked unplayed! When another deep groove came, I noted that the phrase cut at exactly the same place as before. I thought: Oh, some repetitions (the content of the record) are acceptable to the listener, and others are not (the record looping back – the sound of a record being destroyed!). I have not spoken to anybody else about the record – it may well be that I have a damaged copy, but the experience of considering delivery, process and materiality is incredibly important to us, and I think any aspects of spontaneity in our work is heavily tied to bringing to the fore the experience of making Good Area recordings. We improvise for the sounds one makes when one is improvising, and then couch them in tape recordings, which are then played through several tiny amps with canned drum beats. I always like work that seems to be of one genre and then falls into entropy – several of the works on Roberto Marinelli’s Multiple Configuration label pretend to be genre work – rock, prog, synth, jazz, etc. – only to decay into a cloud of loose, estranged instrumentation. I suppose one could say we try to be that all the way through.
FFF: Given your connection to Kye, I’m wondering how Graham Lambkin’s investigations into the sonic possibilities of domestic settings and the like has informed your own practices?
Allen: Gabi and I are both longstanding fans of the Shadow Ring and the subsequent work made by Graham. The Lighthouse LP, the Elklink recordings & Graham’s work in Tart are favorites here at the Good Area homestead. Graham has an artistic integrity, and what’s more, a pragmatic practicality which I find inspiring. He’s my friend and he informs my practice in Good Area in that I strive for the same directional steadfastness and inevitability he enjoys. I respect him, and if something Gabi & I cook up meets with his approval, I know we’re on the right path.
Eugenio Miccini’s Concerti Di Poesia released on Edizioni Lotta Poetica remains one of my chief influences. The wine-dark vocal eruptions and whispers laid on top of a bath of national music and familiar sound strikes me as a high water mark. Hijokaidan, particularly the work heard on 2nd Damascus and Tapes, retain a dogged refusal to sink into music while always engaging in dialogue with both psychedelic music and progressive rock. Toshiji Mikawa once said music is only too willing to incorporate noise. Music is an amoebic, omnivorous force which strives to coerce other sounds to its own means. Mikawa’s absurd insistence upon noise for noise’s sake has been a preeminent inspiration. Hijokaidan’s discourse with the signifiers of rock music is all the more impressive because they remain noise. When Hijokaidan plays Faust’s “It’s A Rainy Day Sunshine Girl” riff on their first LP, they dismantle the riff’s machinery through repetition and redundancy. Brilliant, as a riff’s initial success also relies upon repetition. I hope the insistence of the beat on French Antarctica achieves something similar.
Gabi: Allen’s thoughts about Graham and the Shadow Ring reflect mine and I don’t have anything of note to add.
FFF: You put out a couple of tapes on your own Vitrine imprint late last year: one being from Good Area, another being a solo offshoot as No Intention. Do you plan to use Vitrine as an outlet for more of your explorations in sound and poetry, perhaps documenting a bigger picture of your activity in smaller editions? Or is this something you’d like to expand to outside of Good Area?
Allen: Vitrine is still very much a nascent concern. Subterranean and mail art culture is not purely contingent upon submitting material to various international closet tape labels, but hinges upon running one as well. Vitrine will largely remain a forum for Gabi and I to release our own material, but we also want to highlight the exemplary work of contemporaries. We have a number of projects on our plate at the moment, which we hope will see light sometime around early spring 2014. I just received the masters for an as-of-yet unnamed homespun industrial unit featuring Shane English and his partner – synth ambles contaminated by quiet interventions, all pervaded by an atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place on a Italian Industrial no-run demo cassette circa ’81. A good, hearty, old-school cassette compilation is also in the works, featuring many of my favorite units active as of 2014 – Spoils & Relics, Matthew Hopkins, Yeast Culture, Arv & Miljo. Vitrine is not an expansion of Good Area, but a clear consolidation.
Gabi: At present Allen handles more or less all of the A&R (so to speak) on Vitrine. I deal with the more technical side of things – ripping tapes and layout and such, with Allen’s cooperation – as well as with the concept for the look of Good Area/Vitrine’s product. Despite the separation of tasks, everything we do is a joint venture – both of us seek approval from the other for every Vitrine decision.
GOOD AREA FFF MIX TRACK LIST
I. Amok – Return to Hamelin (excerpt) from Return to Hamelin
Allen: Amok first appeared as one of the myriad pseudonyms used by Italian sound artist Enrico Piva in the early 80s. Perhaps more visible as the photographer and visual collaborator for many of Giancarlo Toniutti’s vinyl sleeves, Piva assembled a hearty, multifaceted body of work throughout the 80s, ceasing production abruptly in 1990. Return to Hamelin remains the most accomplished work of his I’ve heard, combining closet kosmische and sound poetry with the sepulchral electronics of Maurizio Bianchi or Ezio Albrile. The cassettes released under his own name mostly consist of focused studies of specific patterns or motifs, done to varying degrees of success. He tragically passed away in 2002 and has yet to see the retrospective attention he deserves.
Gabi: To my ears (which, painfully, are ears that haven’t heard the work on his ambitiously conceptual Onlytapes Records), Amok is the finest work Piva released. Later into the 80s his work would dwell on the mental mutations created by repeated identical beats (something hinted at here), an idea I love in theory, but for my money the manner in which the Amok work creates a soundscape of found and made samples connects together in a superlative “unrelated sounds occurring together in a Clovis Trouille-style assembly hall” way.
II. Sadness Without Brains – Touring from Bring Your Mom Too
Allen: A short-lived unit led by sound poet Larry Wendt and Eric Gatzert, a technician at San Jose State University. The project centered around experiments utilizing the campus’ resources and studio. The shortwave underlying this track provides a bed of public intrusion for the hermetic event of live sound and processed vocalization.
Gabi: Apparently these live events were quite popular as on-campus entertainment. The live air fills the recording and makes the recording pregnant in an immensely pleasurable way.
III. Shida – Mr. Chinhatto (excerpt) from File 1: Mr. Chinhatto & Dedomen
Allen: Released on the legendary G.R.O.S.S. tapes, this is the first cassette by Toyohiro Okazaki. Okazaki is perhaps better known for providing occasional guitar and electronics to the free jazz meets Japanese noise powerhouse, Dislocation. Okazaki’s solo material is more discreet than the extroverted improvisation of Dislocation, incorporating audience murmur and what sounds like a muffled recording of a Neil Young track. Whereas Shida material is hard to come by, Dislocation’s superb Coyote’s Call, put out by Fusetron, is still readily available for next to nothing.
Gabi: Not enough good can be said of any component of Dislocation, but Okazaki’s Shida project stands particularly tall for me. Okazaki is generally a man who works through the free improv channels – he participated in Derek Bailey’s improvisation workshops when they came to Japan, and has spearheaded similar gatherings himself – so it’s a delight to hear the man perform his electronics work solo. One feels the sense of patient timing that comes with skilled improv play out amongst background sound and silence.
IV. G*Park – Die Kröten from Anästhesie
Allen: This early offering from Marc Zeier sounds like nothing if not a secular Coil. Breath dominates this track, either through horn interruptions or the soft, barely noticeable vocalizations. G*Park always manages to impress through a detail-driven attention to sound and the ability to pivot upon sound’s specificity. A wonderful example of the effectiveness of additive and subtractive techniques on a small scale.
Gabi: Haha, Allen said it. Nothing to add.
V. Rasenkaidan – Visions from 不思議なところ [Fushigi Na Tokoro]
Allen: Reverberations from the deep cellar of Japanese experimental sound. Spiral Stairway in Japanese, Rasenkaidan is the Seichi Hayashi to Hijokaidan’s Hideshi Hino. A persistent keyboard part and tactful echo machine work compliment a languid bassline which is only played correctly two-thirds of the time. The listener is constantly in danger of falling into the murk of the track, to be shaken to awareness by the occasional flubs of the bass part. It is important to never give oneself over completely to music, but always to balance on the tip of absorption. Wonderful song, regardless. If I heard this unawares I would be tempted to assume it were taken from some obscure Pinakaotheca cassette release.
Gabi: I hope I’m not stepping over a line when I say everybody ought to know this track! Rasenkaidan was Jojo Hiroshige’s testament to Slapp Happy, which is a great and evocative thing to say considering the music sounds nothing like Slapp Happy.
VI. Shub Niggurath – La Ballade De Lénore from Les Morts Vont Vite
Allen: The black rook of French prog. Too visceral to comfortably stand beside the chamber prog of Univers Zero, Shub Niggurath was also too gloomy to truly be classified as zeuhl. They were the rare band which actually grew more abstract as they progressed. The selected track is from their sole LP, preceded by a minimally distributed self-released demo tape. The rhythm section forms a billowing cloud, only to be dispersed by Ann Stewart’s vocals and Veronique Verdier’s trumpet. The organ jabs in the latter half of the track threaten to disorient the steady rhythm. This and the CD follow up, C’étaient De Très Grands Vents, are essential pieces to the puzzle.
Gabi: I quite like how the Shub Niggurath pack operates to some extent away from the other zeuhl artists. Their work is always begging the question of how to become harsher and darker while maintaining the quality of being zeuhl, if that makes sense. Members Franck W. Fromy and Allain Ballaud seem to drive this experimental force, which is explored further in side projects with their associate Kasper T Toeplitz.
VII. Steve McCaffery – Black Aleph I from Research on the Mouth
Allen: Steve McCaffery, currently serving as head of the Poetics department at SUNY Buffalo, remains the most lucid and ingenious of sound poets in the Americas. McCaffery has suffered a long-standing neglect of his poetic, concrete and theoretical work, partially because as a Canadian his written work can not be featured, and therefore popularized, in American anthologies of late-20th century experimental writing, and partially because his exquisite sonic work was released in micro-editions on cassette and vinyl. A polymath and a gentleman, McCaffery was also a member of Canadian sound poetry ensemble, the Four Horsemen, alongside Paul Dutton and bpNichol.
Gabi: This, McCaffery’s most (if I could) anthemic track, embodies something of which this playlist has no lack but which is not usually found in McCaffery’s solo audio work – a sense of room sound, expanding upward and outward. McCaffery tends more toward a very present, crisp audio quality on most of Research on the Mouth, so when this track (the first of two similarly-minded parts) comes in, it really howls.
VIII. Matthew Hopkins – Nocturne 2 from Nocturnes
Allen: Not much to add, other than the music itself. Hopkins has been perfecting his sound over the past couple years along the same heady lines as Giancarlo Toniutti, Andrew Chalk or John Hudak. Hopkins manages to achieve a totality of sound while never lapsing into immersive escapism.
Gabi: Really love this LP. The next one seems like it’s going to be quite good too.
IX. Michael Snow – Short Wavelength (excerpt) from 2 Radio Solos
Allen: If Steve McCaffery could be called a polymath, then Michael Snow remains an ineffable surfeit of ingenuity and bravery. Whether through his film work, visual art, or longstanding tenure with free music unit CCMC, Michael Snow refuses to abide by comfortable aesthetic norms. His double LP set, Musics For Piano, Whistling, Microphone And Tape Recorder, is most likely his sonic masterwork, but 2 Radio Solos contains a surfeit of ingenious shortwave work. Snow never lapses into the cliches of shortwave performance. For instance, the playing can be cynical, but never falls back upon irony for an easy applause. Performed on a Nordmende receiver which, for my money, is one of the sturdiest and most versatile shortwave radios available.
Gabi: I second Allen’s statement about Snow refusing to use the clear audio for purposes of cheap irony. Aside from that, all I can say is that as a person who’s been sort of playing the shortwave for about a half a year I admire deeply the flatness and thinness of the texture he gets from it on this cassette. He, like Shida’s Okazaki, is an artist who had (in his practice as a musician) worked primarily in the realms of free improv (CCMC and the superlative Artists’ Jazz Band records), and I believe the same comment about the delight of hearing him work alone is applicable here.
X. Anode/Cathode – …Of The Passive Voice Through The Light from Music
Allen: This was ripped from Gabi & my copy of the Music boxset on Vanity Records. They are credited there as Adode/Cathode. This track was also featured on their sole record, a 33 rpm 7” released throughout fabled purveyors of Japanese free jazz and murky prog, Pinakotheca. Anode/Cathode are master practitioners of a damaged prog/ postpunk collision equaled only by This Heat. I heard rumors that this duo actually consisted of two LAFMS-affiliated West Coasters, but the veracity of this is unconfirmed. I would have loved a cassette-length run-through of Anode/Cathode’s repertoire along the lines of the Working on a Plan Vanity tapes. The grey area.
Gabi: Anode/Cathode is essential to Good Area’s groundwork. Repetitive action, highly assured of itself, with an element playing fast and loose – we’re right there with them on the factory floor where psychedelic music is made. I really can’t talk about this track in much depth because I love it so much and any further explanation will just turn into flowery praise.
XI. Diz Willis – Browbeating Mumzy from Presents Cosmic Skanking Realiagnment Of The Meduza
Allen: “I’m jamming with you.” Diz Willis comes off as the enflamed sphincter of an alcoholic Robert Kelly. An affiliate of the infallible Milovan Srdenovic of Smell & Quim infamy, Willis is a gnomic institution in and of himself. Despite their occasional inconsistency, Smell & Quim remain the preeminent blackhole of 90s British noise nihilism. Willis’ solo work roves between perverse faux-ethnographies and acerbic field recordings. This cassette largely consists of a fly on the wall field recording of drunken party goers listening to puerile reggae and dub. Sounds like Mary Poppins singing along to Bob Marley’s Legend. The proof is in the pudding. Fatal blows delivered to gender studies, imperialism and race relations.
Gabi: I’m glad these people had such a good time; the recording benefits from it. Diz Willis’s work is great. His recordings of himself talking are so potent and distinctive that these ladies enjoying their reggae records (“pickely-plock”) acts as a cipher for Diz Willis’s character. In addition to his audio recordings, I recommend heartily any video footage you can find on YouTube or elsewhere of him telling wild party stories, as I consider those in-canon Diz Willis material as well.
XII. Consumer Electronics – Your Zen is Shit from Teenage Nuremburg
Allen: By the time he’d reached legal drinking age, Philip Best had already laid out a blueprint for much of the homespun electronics which were to follow throughout the 80s and 90s. Whereas his frequent collaborator, William Bennett, has always had a nascent mannerism to his work, Best excels at a intuitive sensualism of sound which is hard to beat. The material on the Pure disc, Teenage Nuremburg, can only possibly be approached by the nigh-impossible to acquire Leathersex cassette on his own Iphar micro-label. The space and patience exercised on this track, following the athleticism of the disc proper is flat out jaw-dropping. Best has never been a nihilist, but rather the penultimate sensualist. Please also investigate the Für Ilse Koch compilation on Come Org and The New Order, Bradford Red Light District record. “Yes is the answer.”
Gabi: For as long as I’ve known of him, Philip Best has made me excited to grow up. To me, he’s an embodiment of the ability of the single person to control their own ability to curate and think well and then better. His work is, as Allen says, very sensual, but in its sensualism carries the intellectual weight of self-fashioning for those looking in. Sophistication is a state of mind. I respect him and his work immensely.