Howard Stelzer

Songs

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Take the title loosely, otherwise you might think that Howard Stelzer (operating tape machines) and Jason Talbot (on turntable) are some kind of DJs. What is a song, anyway? In a nutshell, it's a piece of music that has enough structural elements (melody, harmony, lyrics, architecture) that you will be able to identify regardless of the interpreter. Do these eight tracks qualify as songs? No. Does it matter? No. In fact, Stelzer and Talbot couldn't care less about songs. What they play is a riveting form of improvised, controlled mayhem called meta-music: music that is entirely made of other music. Tapes fed by hand through the playback head, moved back and forth; records spun manually on the turntable so slowly that it only produces a puree of sound -- you can't even tell if its forward or backward -- or so fast that it whizzes through the air. The sound sources may be songs, but what you hear comes closer to extreme laptop improv, although these short pieces don't have that cold feel associated with digital music. They are strangely warm -- thanks to the physical, hands-on approach -- and evoke the early days of musique concrete. Pierre Schaeffer's Études (5) de Bruits may impose itself on listeners' minds even though Stelzer and Talbot don't propose anything remotely identifiable to the real, everyday world. They also make use of space in a somewhat jerky way that turns out to be both annoying and entertaining. In short, Songs is a confusing album that could be seen as the start of something new or a very unusual look at the past of noise music.

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