Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson & BJNilsen – “The Found Tapes” (2018)

The creation of music is, for the musician, a personal process.  Whether making the most seemingly vapid sugary pop or the most challenging avant garde, the creator brings at least some elements of his/her personal experience to the process.  And while we as listeners can never fully feel that place, we can hear the result, and what is produced is, at least scientifically speaking, the same for all of us.  Sure, one person’s hearing may be better than another’s, but at the end of the day we can use equipment to show precisely what the sound waves look like.  So while the artist’s personal experience is still unique to them, the rest of us have a framework (the song) through which to try to comprehend it.

Dreams, on the other hand, are a totally different story.  In theory we all dream, though I’ve known a few people over the years who say they never, ever remember their dreams upon waking.  That seems so strange to me, because while I don’t always remember my dreams, I’d say that most mornings immediately upon waking I have at least some recollection of what I dreamed.  These memories are often quite fragmented, sometimes even down to just a snapshot-like image or two, and they’re certainly hard to keep in my mind, fading like an ice cube melting on hot concrete.  I’ve even been fortunate enough to have a few lucid dreams, which is a total trip and can be quite a lot of fun if you can manage to stay asleep.  But have you ever tried explaining your dream to someone else, or listened as they tried to explain theirs to you?  The entire thing often sound so bizarre, and often quite different from your own dream experiences.  Do we all dream the same way?  It doesn’t seem like it.  Some people’s dreams are quite linear, while others are complete chaos.  And what about the emotional connection to your dreams?  We’re talking about something that is a shared human experience, but one which we literally have no way of truly sharing with others.  Maybe I could make a film or a song that captured some dream I had, but the disconnect is at a very deep level.

Listening to The Found Tapes is like intruding into another person’s dream.  It’s like getting inside someone’s head and hearing their unconscious, the sometimes faint, sometimes bold firing of synapses.  There are threads that seems to have a logical flow to them, but at times these are sharply broken by the entirely unexpected.  Sigmarsson (part of Stilluppsteypa) and Nilsen create a universe that feels like it is set inside a hollow cranium, a confined space capable of reflecting and shifting sound in ways that can be both beautiful and unsettling.  Some places are calm and orderly, others dark and primal, superego and id co-existing and sometimes colliding like billiard balls rolling along a rubber mat, so that even when they don’t make physical contact they still change one another’s trajectories due to the curves their masses introduce onto the surface.  It’s the sound of the early days of the universe, a Jungian archetype coded into our DNA by the big bang.

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I believe there are two versions of this release.  The first is a cassette accompanied by a 112 page color art book in a limited edition of 70 copies.  The second, which is the one I have, is also an edition of 70 copies, but is simply a cassette and one signed/numbered photo in a plastic pouch.  Overall the best genre description I can come up with is experimental ambient, but what you really want it for is the dreams… the dreams…

Stilluppsteypa – “Beach Jolanda” (2018)

I sat down to write this on Saturday morning after an impossibly long and challenging work week.  I managed ten hours of sleep last night, which I desperately needed, but that left me with that weird sort of sleep hangover where you feel like you both got too much sleep and not enough at the same time.  As I sat in front of the computer with my second cup of coffee I looked down and there was a little island of tiny bubbles floating at the top of the magical liquid, still slowly circling the middle of the cup from where I had been stirring it.  And somehow, at that moment, that was the perfect visual accompaniment to the beginning of Stilluppsteypa’s “Wonderful To Communicate”, the momentary pure blending of my foggy state, a cup of coffee, and sound.

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A few months ago Stilluppsteypa released Beach Jolanda, a collection of a dozen tracks recorded between 2006 and 2017.  I picked up a copy via a Facebook post and have been looking forward to giving it a spin.  It’s hard to describe what’s happening on Beach Jolanda.  I suppose the easy word to use is “experimental” in that the compositions generally don’t follow any standard musical flows or patterns, but that sells it a bit short.  This isn’t just some kind of electro-noise album – there’s an intentionality at work.  There’s an overall ambient current that gives the listener a starting point.  From there it undulates in different directions, at times feeling like a field recording (“Denise”), at others like a 1960s sci-fi movie soundtrack on acid. (♠)  And somehow it all seems to fit together.

It’s been over a decade since the last release that came out under only the Stilluppsteypa name – most of the more recent works have been collaborations with BJ Nilsen.  I wonder if it will be the last… we’ll have to wait and see.  The vinyl is limited to 400 copies and can still be found online HERE, so get it while you can.

(♠)  The grooves on the vinyl don’t clearly delineate the songs, and nothing seems to truly end in a conventional way… so while I know this was about half way through side A, I have no idea what track it is.

Malneirophrenia – “M-Theory” (2017)

malneirophreniaI was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of the 2017 Malneirophrenia remixes record M-Theory – only 35 copies of this lathe-cut 12″ were made, each individually numbered, so it’s not an easy one to track down.  The band has been around for a while, putting out their first release M back in 2011, but somehow I’ve completely missed them over the years – I’d never even heard of them until this arrived in the mail. They described their debut as “M is a mixture of metal, classical music and imaginary soundtracks. It is chamber punk.”  Chamber punk.  If if that doesn’t sound interesting, I don’t know what does.

My lack of familiarity with he originals means I have limited context for the remixes, with only what I know of the artists doing the remixes to go by.  Futuregrapher and Lord Pusswhip both make contributions, as does Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, who is best known for his work as part of Stilluppsteypa.  Pusswhip in particular gives me what I’ve come to expect from his royal highness, something languidly trippy.  Sigmarsson’s track, “I Am The Cello”, runs 19+ minutes and consumes the entire B side and is a bit of a surprise, lacking the experimentalism I’ve come to associate with his music (OK, maybe there’s a bit on the second half of the song).  The overall feel of the base tracks is classical, with the remixes primarily adding nuance, though Pusswhip makes sure to keep things a bit weird on his.

The three A side songs can be heard on Bandcamp HERE if you want to give them a listen.

Stilluppsteypa – “Stilluppsteypa” (1992)

stilluppsteypaStilluppsteypa was a three piece punk band formed in Iceland back in 1992, and the Stilluppsteypa 7″ appears to have been their first release, coming out that same year.  The whole package has a heavy DIY vibe, from the hand-printed front and back covers, to the four page ‘zine like insert stapled to the jacket, to the fact that the record itself is a fairly thick and robust flexi disc.  It’s a very thoughtful presentation.

Musically Stilluppsteypa is some raw, noisy punk rock, sort of all over the board.  “Þriggja Laga Hliðin” is a pretty bad-ass old school number, sloppy as hell with raspy vocals.  There are elements of noise throughout the five songs, places where the structure simply breaks down and becomes nothing more than grating audio.  “Fjallræðan” sounds like it was recorded in the bottom of an oil drum, while “Sjálfstæðistefnan” feels like it was recorded inside some old echoey church by a microphone located a hundred feet away.

Stilluppsteypa is weird for sure, and you can already hear early on the band is interested in the abstract/experimental sides of music which came to define their later work.

Stilluppsteypa + Curver – “Inside AM” / “Make Star Shine” 7″

In my life there have been some types of technology I embraced early on.  I was using an old IBM 386 computer and modem to direct dial other computers to participate in chat boards back in the late 1980s in the days before we had the internet we know today  (when you could actually get a busy signal!), and I bought my first CD player in the days when you could walk into your local Musicland at the mall and go through their entire section of CDs in probably five minutes.  But I was also probably the last person you know who isn’t collecting social security to finally break down and get an ATM card.  And recently I succumbed and opened a PayPal account.  I know, I know.  Welcome to the modern age, you stubborn luddite.

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So I needed to break in my PayPal account with a cheap purchase to make sure it was working, so to the interwebs I went and purchased this odd Icelandic noise 7″ from 1994.  As you can see, the purchase went off without a hitch.  So what was it about the Stilluppsteypa + Curver 45 that interested me?  Well, Curver (aka Birgir Örn Thoroddsen) to be blunt.  You may know him as the electronics part of Ghostigital (seen here at their infamous KEX Hostel show at Iceland Airwaves 2012), the best industrial monstrosity putting on shows today.  If Curver is involved, I know it will be interesting.

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This is a pretty trippy little 7″.  The beat on “Inside AM” almost sounds like morse code to me… or more like one morse code letter looped over and over and over again.  “Make Star Shine” is a bit more mainstream industrial, though really these might be more experimental electronic since they don’t have that sheer abrasiveness that often defines industrial.  It’s interesting, and I can see some of the elements that later became part of the Ghostigital sound, especially the use of disjointed musical horns – we’ve seen them perform with live horn players at least a couple of times.  So for me this is a cool sort of historical artifact, an early piece by a guy I respect a lot.  While I’d certainly recommend Curver’s more recent projects, this one probably appeals best to the nerds (like me) and serious fans.