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11 March 2017

James Twig Harper - 'Intuitive American Esoteric volume 1' (Audiobot/Heresee/Ignivomous/No Sides/White Tapes)

It somehow took five labels to get together to release this LP, in an edition of 555 so each label got 111 copies (I assume), and I'm not sure of which respective stash mine came from. It's funny to be served this immediately after Blake Hargreaves (as the alphabetical decrees) since it was in Baltimore, in the same room as Mr. Harper, that I saw Dreamcatcher/Hargreaves. Though I didn't get this LP until a bit later (I think). Hazy memories of those central Bush years, you know, but some great LPs came out of them, such as Intuitive American Esoteric Volume 1. This is an amazing document of outsider music, one that is worthy of it's slightly ambitious title. I'm not going to make a judgement on whether or not it is intuitive, but American and esoteric for sure, and this is a record where the physicality of the vinyl is inseparable from the music. Harper's approach to 'esoterica' is crafty, and the two untitled side-long pieces could be small symphonies of electronic assemblage. Buzzing, hissing and dissonance are welcome here - a high pitched squeal is present throughout so much of this record that it becomes unnoticeable, and most sounds are electronic/tape-manipulated in origin. But it moves fluidly, opening with a very well composed piece (even if it was composed through the improvisation + editing technique) which suggests a music box gone awry. As the record progresses it never loses momentum, and most of the energy is in small gestural sounds though it gets pretty 'noisy' (meaning, distortion, hiss, errant sinewave tones, etc.). Tapes are the real currency here, with the speed-up/slow-down of the motors and reels bouncing around like skeleton bones carried by a rickety train. When clearly audible bits of other recordings are present, they only leap out for a moment before accelerating or decelerating into something more maddening. Yet despite all of this movement, it never becomes tiresome to listen to. Side two is mastered through a tin can (really!) which isn't a gimmick - it limits the dynamic range of the music somewhat, but gives it a nice antediluvian sheen, and the physical grooves on the record itself are lovely. Speaking of grooves, this side is full of locked ones, mixed all throughout - sneaking up on you like a frustrating video game boss and requiring the stylus to be manually bumped ahead. Even though you can't fall asleep to it, the whole thing works as a complete piece of its own, developing mountains and valleys of madness

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