It’s Usually Music: International Debris on Autism, Spotify, Music Curation, Self-Loathing and What Life’s All About

30/04/2018

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Exteriors (released April 27) is the second release by International Debris on Arachnidiscs, though the first under that moniker. Ross Baker previously provided a side of a split-tape with Tranzmit under their own name. The UK-based genderqueer musician has worked in various styles over various aliases, but generally falls into the category of sound collage, tying together acoustic and electronic instruments with field recordings and samples. Baker refers to their sound as ‘horizon music’, signifying a recurring theme of open space and a fascination with that which we only know from a distance. In an attempt to lessen that distance and get to know them better, I asked them spare some time for a chat.

Ross Baker: Feel quite tempted to answer every question with ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc., just to be awkward

Jakob Rehlinger: How very Jesus and Mary Chain of you.

RB: Did you ever see that Sigur Ros interview?

JR: I don’t think I ever have.

RB: It’s worth five minutes of your time at some point*.

JR: I’ll watch that later. Speaking of music history, Exteriors is an album that collects a bunch of your own musical history, from 2002-2018, as well you’ve just embarked on a reissue campaign. Why is keeping your past alive important to you?

RB: I really like chronology, I think. I think the best art, whatever medium, has to be able to stand up in its own right, but at the same time it’s also really interesting to hear things in context. It can be fascinating to compare an album with the two albums found either side of it. So that’s something I want to represent in my own catalogue.

I’ve also been through a long period of self-doubt that’s caused me to continually reassess past releases and change their tracklists and such, countless times in some cases, and having come out of that and made some peace with my past, it’s nice to be able to present ‘definitive’ versions of the albums I suppose.

Exteriors came together because I basically released I had a bunch of tracks that never found a home. The bulk of them all had a similar theme which never became an album in its own right, and I thought it was about time I actually made that album. I kind of feel like I owe it to my past self, the me who made these tracks at various points over the past fifteen-or-so years.

JR: I do a similar revisionist history thing with my own music for similar reasons. Sometimes I’ll create a new project name to suit the music. Often I only release, or reissue, these as digital files on Bandcamp. You’ve made your reissues physical CDs. Is having them exist as physical objects important to you as well?

RB: I don’t listen to music on my computer. I tried for a while, and I ended up just not enjoying it as much. My CD collection was on the other side of the country so I was restricted to my digitised versions. I was so happy when I finally moved house and got my CD collection back, I just listened to more stuff and enjoyed it more. So I was basically planning a way to make my own copies of my own albums in a way that I could listen to and enjoy, and that basically set the whole thing in motion, gave me a reason to finally make these definitive versions.

As with just about everything, I have a fairly polarised view on it. I’d actually really like to be able to just have a digital collection—it’s cheaper, more space efficient, more environmentally conscious—which is why I like to ensure all my albums are available digitally, because anybody who wants to just have the download version has my blessing! But yeah, I can’t get out of that physical thing. I’m sure my autism comes into it a lot, 25 years of doing something is a hard habit to kick for anyone, but given how rigid my thought processes are, it’s next-to-impossible I think. And I know a lot of other people like having physicals, something to hold, artwork to look at, so I want to offer that to those who want it. But I’ve done it through an on-demand service, which means I don’t end up with a load of unsold copies, and it also discourages people from buying it purely for its ‘limited edition’ collectability, which is something I really dislike. I’ve been thinking of putting my stuff on Spotify, but that’s another can of worms entirely… [The first run of Exteriors sold-out on the day of release. There are still a few copies of the ‘limited’ second edition available.]

JR: My attitude on that is people can stream it off Bandcamp if they want.  Maybe Bandcamp needs to tweak their app a little more to make it more appealing to Spotify users, I’m not sure. But I feel like it’s there already and people can go stuff themselves if they want my own or Arachnidiscs artists’ music basically for free on the platform most convenient to them.

RB: I suppose the thing Spotify has is a wider audience. It’s more streaming in general that I have a weird relationship with, because—ignoring the financial side of it all—the one thing it’s doing is killing the idea of a record collection. If you have a paid Spotify account, or whatever service you want to use, then you effectively have access to most music, and it cuts that idea of curation out. I’ve never been that much into music ‘culture’ in a lot of ways, but one thing that’s always appealed to me is the curation of a record collection and how it reflects a person. You can look at someone’s shelves or iTunes library and it’s full of memories, associations, reflections of their personality and quirks… with Spotify, you effectively ‘own’ your favourite album alongside ones you hate.

 

 

 

[CDs from Ross’s curated collection via Instagram]

JR: You mentioned your autism. Obviously, you’ll have no perspective on what it’s like not having autism. But how do you think it informs the way you, as opposed to  neurotyptical musicians, make music?

RB: How does being autistic inform my music… I suppose I make my music to soundtrack places in my head. I have a very, very detailed geography in my head of where the majority of my albums are ‘set’. This imaginary world is made up of places I’ve been, dreams, things I’ve seen on TV / film and stuff from my own imagination, but it feels very, very real to me. It’s a place I like to retreat to when I need a break from the real world and other people—which is a lot of the time!—and I suppose most of my albums are a way of trying to paint a picture of these places to show other people.

That and my utter lack of ability to collaborate with other people. I’ve done collabs, but the only ones that have worked remotely well are ones where I’ve been given a bunch of material and allowed to take complete control of the project, or where I’ve sent over material and let the other person take control. I can’t do anything halfway because I can’t really comprehend what the other person is thinking. My girlfriend and I have a project and every time we do something it ends up in a row, haha.

JR: I have a similar relationship to collaboration. I’m on the spectrum too, but far, far closer to the center than you are. I either have to be the ringmaster or take a completely subservient role in the jam, to the point I feel like I’m not even contributing anything. Or maybe I’m just a narcissistic asshole. I’ve spent probably over 20 solid years trying to learn how to play empathetically with other people. I think I’m almost there.

RB: Haha yeah, even when I was a kid making tapes with my friends I had to say what the song was about and if anybody deviated I’d get really angry. There’s one song I always remember which has loads of bits where the tape is stopped for me to shout at my mate before pressing record again. It happens about eight times in the same song.

JR: A drummer in one of my bands used to do a good impression of the sideways glare I’d give people when I was unhappy with what they were doing. I never yelled, I’d go very silent and very still.

When you were talking about ‘soundtracks’, that sounds very familiar to me. I can’t imagine anyone not approaching making music that way, but I suspect they do. What’s more interesting to me is your talking of it being an escape. Do you find music, listening and making, an effective therapy?

RB: Music as therapy… listening definitely. It’s always been a way for me to lose myself and just be in the moment, to forget about a lot of my issues. The soundtrack thing doesn’t just go for instrumental music, I also associate a lot of song-based stuff with places in my head. Usually more ‘normal’ ones. A lot of indie records make me think of suburbia, people living normal, balanced lives, having normal relationships, and it’s nice to get lost in that and pretend it’s the life I’m living sometimes. There are some bands who have such a specific sound to me that I can actually picture specific streets and houses that their music sounds like.

Making music can be therapeutic and it can also be a massive nightmare. I go through periods of hideous self-doubt and often end up in the worst moods because I absolutely loathe a track or even several weeks or months worth of output. Most of it I make my peace with at some point, but it can be really, really difficult at times. I’ve actually been using music making as part of a routine recently, though, just working on some every day regardless of how it comes about. Having that structure in my day has helped me cope with anxiety.

JR: Getting back to Spotify and the idea of curation. I think the average person has never historically been into the idea of curating a music collection. It just used to be owning records was the only way to access your favourite songs. I think the average person secretly resented it, and that was proven to be true with Napster and now Spotify. And that’s fine. I just bristle when someone, who hasn’t bought a download or cassette emails me to say my music is important to them, and when am I putting it up on Spotify? I bristle, I tell you. Curation, though. My CD collection is definitely fueled by a mild OCD. It definitely comforts me to collect discographies. It’s something that also causes me anxiety and I have to monitor myself.

RB: I agree with you about the average listener, but I think there are a lot of music fans who would be the sort to curate a collection who use Spotify instead. Again, I have contradictory views. I have huge respect for people who are able to cast off possessions, who are able to live happily with as few things as possible—it’s something I try and do myself— but at the same time I do think what we collect over the years can also become part of us in a good way too. If all we do is rent then at the end of it we end up with nothing.

I’ve spent the last six or so years battling with some horrible OCD, my brain starts telling me I’ll never be happy with my CD collection the way it is, which stops me from enjoying music at all, so I’ve ended up selling stuff only to regret it and want to buy it back again. It’s been really bad at times—I’ve ended up in hospital—but I’m gradually getting on top of it. I think that’s how these anxiety conditions work, they latch on to the most important things. At one point I went from owning about 1,500 CDs to about 200. Then I had a moment of enlightenment and this huge “What the hell have I done?!” feeling. I sort of reacted against having complete discographies, partially inspired by what I was saying about not owning things you don’t need—why the hell would I actually want a copy of David Bowie’s Tonight?—and that got out of hand until I was just getting rid of anything I didn’t absolutely love at that exact moment in time. The human brain is absurd and I have no idea how we’ve lasted this long as a species sometimes.

JR: I’ve done that so, so many times. I mean, I have gladly not owned a copy of Tonight for years. But I’m back up to 3000-ish CDs from 200. It’s that owning objectively terrible albums by your favourite artists that gets you. Now I just accept, yes, I do need to own Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s second album that I’ll never listen to again. But not Tonight. No. Never again.

RB: After Bowie’s death I thought it was time for a reassessment of his catalogue. I’d sold everything but Low and Outside at some point, despite liking a considerable number of them. So I bought them all back, and then Tonight, Never Let Me Down, Black Tie White Noise, Hours, etc. All got sold about a week later. I try and think “Can I genuinely see myself listening to this in five years time?” when purchasing an album these days. None of those Bowie albums would have passed a ‘five minutes’ test, let alone five years.

JR: Oops. Wait a minute. I was confusing Tonight with Never Let Me Down. I actually quite like Tonight. Well, the singles from it anyway. But not enough to own it. Up until The Next Day and Black Star, singles collections are generally the way to go for his post-Scary Monsters period .

RB: That feeling of doubting your own music taste though, it’s absolutely horrible. I’ve never known anybody else who had it, so it’s strangely relieving to know somebody else has been there.

JR: I never exactly doubt my musical taste. I’m too egotistical on some level to deeply doubt my convictions. But I sometimes fall into a tailspin of wondering what is the point of owning music at all. That maybe the idea that any of it ‘matters’ is just an illusion and I feel like a fool for devoting so much of my life to it. It’s more that because I’m bored of something in the moment erroneously assume I’m over it for good. I always over estimate my own judgement.

RB: Yeah, it can be easy to confuse ‘I don’t like this’ with ‘I’m not in the mood for this at the moment’, especially if you’re not in a great place and looking for stuff to sell. I’ve applied a similar inaccurate thought process to my own music, which is how I ended up re-structuring my own albums in the past, and why the whole definitive version thing seemed so necessary. There are albums of mine like cer and Eyebrook which I realised are actually pretty damn good, and yet at one point I didn’t even have them on my Bandcamp.

JR: At the moment of creation, everything I do is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done. Some previously ‘brilliant’ things are the most embarrassing and are now hidden in a vault permanently.

RB: There are a number of releases conspicuously absent from my definitive reissues series for the very same reason hahaha.

JR: It’s always great when you can see the brilliance in your previously perceived failures though.

RB: Making peace with an old album I thought I hated is always a really lovely moment. If I had to make a ‘top 5 of my own albums’ list I’d definitely put Eyebrook in there now. It’s probably the one I’ve listened to most in the last year or so. Funny how these things happen.

JR: It’s a pretty good allegory for life too.

RB: Yeah, I try not to judge too much these days, I’m happier just letting things be, and letting myself gain pleasure from them as and when it comes around. Be that music or… whatever else. It’s usually music for me.

JR: That sounds like a good note to end on.

RB: And there was me waiting for the “why did you utilise that particular synth sequence in track 7” type questions.

JR: No one cares about that.

RB: I care about that! I always get excited when an artist mentions a particular song in an interview. It’s something to get nerdy about. “Oh wow, that song was written two years before the rest”. That’s what life’s all about.


Exteriors is available now from the Arachnidiscs Recordings store.


*Note: This Sigur Ros interview which Ross mentions above is the exact reason I try not to ask questions about writing process and recording technique.

 


Try ANYTHING with ANYONE: A chat with Samuel Goff of RAIC

16/03/2018

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To celebrate our release of double-disc boutique edition of Richmond Avant Improv Collective‘s third and fourth albums, Communion and Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore respectively, I got drummer and co-founder Samuel Goff (bottom-right) to set aside some time for a chat.

Jakob Rehlinger: I need to start with an important, serious question. Scented candles — Overrated or underrated?

Samuel Goff: Haha. I mean it depends on the scent. Like a Yankee Candle Apple Grove might be overrated. A good sandalwood? Underrated. I approve of the product as a whole.

JR: So, you have the new Arachnidiscs edition of RAIC’s third and fourth albums out. So my ears they sound interconnected. Was that in any way intentional?

SG: Well, yes and no. The Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore album was sort of put together as things that didn’t quite fit elsewhere. But a lot of that was recorded around the same time. And of course the actual song “Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore” is included a total of three times over the two discs—live, studio and remix—so that could be some continuity right there. We are always in the process of recording three or four albums at the same time and I have plans outlined for the next four which are in various stages of completion. A good example is the song “Midnight” which we recorded with Brooklyn guitarist Lucas Brode, we recorded two tracks that day, the other one will be included on album number seven called Multiplicity which just got finished last week. I’m currently shopping that one around to labels.

JR: With the opener of Communion being the free-jazz “First Strike”, and the closer of Il Delirio… being the similarly toned “Ouroboros”, titled after the snake that eats its own tail, there’s a nice circular quality to the two albums together.

SG: I never thought about that but you are right. I had an idea to close each album out with one of the members doing a solo track. So Zoe did hers on Communion which was beautiful. But gosh we had to go through s lot of takes for that one. Zoe is obsessed with baroque music and she wanted to do this song from like the 15th century and I’m like, “Well it’s not really improv, but fuck it, let’s go for it.” So me and Richard coached her on and we finally got some good takes and then Richard layered her voices together and it came out beautiful. So to date that is our only “composition.” We are improv like 99.2 percent of the time. So at the end of the second album that was Erik’s solo track, which yeah, now that you say it, sort of is a full circle type of situation. Next time I’m going to say we meant that, haha. Erik is such a gifted performer and improviser. Usually when we play live I focus on him and his energy and sort of play off that.

JR: Speaking of “Plaindre L’ennuy De La Peine Estimee”, Zoe’s baroque track, and say, “First Strike” or a track like “Midnight”, stylistically you’re all over the map.

SG: That’s exactly how this group was intended. I work a job where I work about 55 hours a week and I’m also in Among The Rocks And Roots and I have a fiancée that I devote a lot of time to, so I don’t have time to devote to being in 4-5 different bands. There used to be a joke here in Richmond where you were not taken seriously as a musician unless you were in four bands. But I have always been interested in a very wide assortment of music so this is sort of a way of getting to do that noise track or that baroque track and then we move on. It also gives us the opportunity to work with a myriad of performers who are also busy but don’t necessarily have the time to devote to another band. But they can devote 3-4 practices and maybe a studio date. It’s painless for everyone involved. We are about to get even more varied with there being two black metal tracks on our album Multiplicity where Abdul makes his RAIC drumming debut and I switch to vocals. It’s a weird life… if I ever write a autobiography I want to call it “How I became a black metal vocalist at the age of 42.” Also on our album Gestalt which is about 50 percent complete we are working on a 50’s style country song with me and Laura Marina on vocals and a hip hop noise track with local MC Black Liquid. I just love music and I have been obsessed with just about every genre at one point in my life so why not have a group where you can try ANYTHING with ANYONE.

JR: Since you bring up Richmond, as a long-time fan of Pelt, I’ve had this, probably somewhat unfounded, idea the city is a hotbed of improv music. Is this the case?

samSG: Hmm. Yes and no? There was a vibrant noise scene here that had died down a lot. Also there is the New Loft which blew my mind the first time I saw them. It’s an improv group with mostly veterans of the Richmond music scene, guys that have been hitting it for over 20 years. We have now worked with most of the people of that group most prominently with Tim Harding who in addition to being in the New Loft also is still going strong with his Afropop group Hotel X. He’s also in a great band called Zygmot with sometime RAIC collaborator Vlad Cuijuclu. Also Jimmy Ghaphery and drummer Sam Byrd from The New Loft has played with us as well. To me, when I saw them I thought they were the best improv group I had ever seen not just in Richmond but anywhere. It was an epiphany for sure. Being in this scene for going on 5 years now it seems, just like with anything, it’s cyclical. Sometimes it is vibrant and groups come and go and sometimes it is stagnant. It we will always be here. This is the music I intend to play when I’m 70. I also make it very clear that when you become an official member of RAIC you are not joining s band but a family. And we treat each other as such. Sometimes dysfunctional, but a family nonetheless. We all love each other and respect each other and their abilities so much. I just love being in this group.

JR: Any plans to buy a run-down farm property and make it full-fledged cult?

SG: Ha! I thought it sounded cult like when I said that! Good call!

JR: Cults are much more profitable than ensembles. Just an idea I’m throwing out there.

SG: I mean, yeah, our Bandcamp sales are holding strong at 99 dollars so I’m sure. The cult thing might be something worth looking into. Erik always talked about starting a cult. Was he kidding or…

JR: I imagine RAIC isn’t a touring proposition. But if you were, what would be in the van tape-deck?

SG: John Coltrane. The soundtrack to “Signor Rossi” Swans. Art Ensemble Of Chicago. Eyvind Kang. And whatever black metal Abdul brings along, haha. Oh! And Sun Ra!!!!

JR: If RAIC were hosting a movie night, what would be on the screen?

SG: We just recorded a movie soundtrack! I will say a silent film called The Seashell And The Clergyman, no hesitation. We have scored that live and in the studio now and for whatever reason it really speaks to us. We do that one really well!

JR: Though not exactly different than some of the sounds on these two CDs, I have to ask you about Among The Rocks and Roots and the absolutely punishing noise rock sounds you and Abdul create. Where does that come from?

SG: Years of having a lot of different emotions that we tried to deal with through the use of substances. We are both recovering addicts and, in fact, I met him my fourth day of sobriety. It’s a lot of just raw emotion. Sort of like improv we play off the energy of each other. How we set up live is indicative of that energy harnessing. I set up in the audience but I am facing the stage and him. And we face each other the whole performance. My back is to the crowd and really all I can see in the whole room is him. This is not some “fuck You” to the audience in any way but a way of getting us into the correct mind-frame in order to lock into each other emotions and energy. So because we are so locked into each other we can really let out everything that is going on inside of us. The room melts away and really it is just me and him there. Volume and intensity also play a part. I first stepped onto a stage at the age of 38 so I swore since I had to wait so long I was going to give every thing I had every performance. And Abdul does as well. We had a motto for awhile where we said “We play like our lives depend on it, because it just might.” It translates to a live audience as well, it’s a very intimate display and the audience feels that. Some people love us and some hate us but no one who sees that ever forgets us and I like that.

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JR: That certainly comes through on the record. Though it might sound simple, it’s really tough to pull off.

SG: You mean the philosophy or the actual music?

JR: The actual music. The minimalist heavy noise thing. Like free-jazz, people tend to say “Aw, anyone can do that” but few who try can make it sound convincing.

SG: Oh ! Haha that stuff is not easy to play I promise. There is a good part on the song “Raga” where it’s quiet and I am doing a roll on the toms and if you listen you can hear me wheezing cause I’m out of breath. We recorded those songs live in the studio because I can’t play “cold” in a room by myself. Like I can’t even play that at all without feeding off his energy. These are 20-30 minute long songs where there are few stopping points and yeah the physicality of it is exhausting. Anything I do with RAIC is much easier than ATRR. I can be fat and do okay free jazz but to play ATRR you got to be in shape, haha.

JR: Last question. You mentioned a finance. Wedding dream band — who is it?

SG: RAIC is playing.


RAIC’s two disc compilation of Communion and Il Delirio E La Mortalità Di Amore is out now on Arachnidiscs Recordings.


Hardcore ’18 and Rupert the Toad: A chat with Gad Whip

12/03/2018

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I recently had a trans-Atlantic chat with visual artist Pete F. Davies, ex-label runner, as well as ranter-in-chief and sometimes drummer of the West Yorkshire post-punk band Gad Whip, who just so happen to have a new cassette out on Arachnidiscs Recordings. We talk about the West Yorkshire music scene, DOA, Mark E. Smith, John Cooper Clarke and Brexit.


Jakob Rehlinger: So. West Yorkshire. What’s the music scene like there?

Pete F. Davies: Pretty good to be honest, Leeds is only 20 minutes so I tend to go there for the majority of gigs. There’s some good venues, Wharf Chambers being my favourite which is a run as a cooperative, so you get a good bunch of promoters using it, plus they do excellent food at very reasonable prices. Huddersfield is even closer, like five miles away, and the scene there is pretty good.

Jakob: What kinds of bands are forming in that area? Similar to Gad Whip or are you on your own?

Pete: All kinds of stuff really, straight up punk, garage punk — Nosebleed are really good. There seems to be a lot more crossover of post punk / psyche / experimental stuff going on. Leeds has a long tradition of DIY, so very kind of band you can think of, there’ll one in Leeds. Cowtown and Cattle are another couple of favourites, then of course there’s Hookworms.

Jakob: Oh yeah, those guys. Not a lot else seems to make it over here. Are people happy enough in their local scene?

Pete: I think so, there’s always the problem of bands not being paid enough, you know. If you’re lucky enough you get to go over to Europe where they treat the bands a lot better. Two sides of the coin and all that haha!

Jakob: Yeah, it’s the same for local bands here too. Would love to get treated right in Europe but can’t afford to go.

Pete: A lot of bands seem happy enough just to get the chance with a decent crowd and to play.

Jakob: Is Brexit going to make that harder to get over to Europe as well?

Pete: Not sure with Brexit, personally I still don’t think it will happen, but then I’m the eternal optimist! It could make it more difficult with the possibility of needing visas and making travelling between countries more difficult.

Jakob: Brexit appears to have already made it tougher for Canadian bands to play in the UK. I know a woman who was detained for 51 hours and turned back and she had a valid visa.

Pete: Wow that’s crazy, is she a musician?

Jakob: Yeah, had a tour booked and everything.

Pete: Blimey that was a bit tough on her, I’ve heard of UK bands being refused entry to the US. I know some who do it as a ‘tourist’ thing as well.

Jakob: Ironically, if she’d snuck in as a tourist probably she’d have been okay. I believe she raised money for another flight and it all worked out in the end. But I wonder if there’ll be more of that kind of thing.

Pete: Glad it turned out OK in the end. Yes possibly there will be more of the same thing.

Jakob: You say you’re hoping Brexit won’t happen. What’s the feeling on the street? The news we get about it seems like no one wants it. But, of course, being part of my progressive internet bubble, all the Brits I know online are against it.

Pete: The majority of people I know are against it, the whole Brexit referendum ‘Out’ campaign was built on lies and fake news. Everyone was shocked when the result came in, and I think the current government don’t really want it. It just drags on and on like some soap opera!

Jakob: It sells papers for Rupert.

Pete: It certainly does, the old toad that he is!

Jakob: That’s unfair to toads.

Pete: Yes, sorry to all toads!

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Jakob: You mentioned to me before you’re working on a new album. Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera is a lot different than the 12”, can we expect a change in sound/direction again?

Pete: It’s going to be the same line up as the 12″ — although all the demos that we’ve done thus far for it have the Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera sound so it will be interesting to see how that translates over. Back to the four-piece so the idea is playing the songs live should be more straightforward.

Jakob: I can see that. I feel like a happy medium between the two could be perfect. Do you play drums as well as sing live?

Pete: Yes that’s what we’re hoping! I do sometimes. We’re recording the album at Lee’s , he’s converted part of his house into a fully functioned studio. He played drums and  guitars on the 12″. So we’re going to have time to try a few things out, like we’re both drummers so why not try two drum tracks? We may have to draft in another guitarist for live stuff (that would be Jim who played on Pin Hole) but it keeps it all sonically interesting.

Jakob: Like Pigface!

Pete: Yes, Pigface! Are they still active?

Jakob: I think Atkins is still using the name. Or something. I followed him on twitter and he sent me an automated reply about buying his eBook. So fuck that guy. Two drummers live would be a great show. You should do that.

Pete: Yeah, we’re planning to do that. It gives the whole thing a lot more edge. Cattle, the band from Leeds I mentioned have two drummers and it’s so great to see.

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Jakob: Way better than a guy with a laptop holding a lager.

Pete: Haha, oh those Sleaford Mods comparisons never go away! I agree with you!

Jakob: Well, you’re all sons of John Cooper Clarke. Is it a thing over there now? A John Cooper Clarke resurgence?

Pete: Yes indeed, the bard of Salford. Yes maybe, he seems to appearing on more mainstream TV shows and did that covers album with Hugh Cornwall where he actually sings. Did you hear that? I was quite into it, it’s all the stuff that influenced him in his early years. I think that stuff stays with you forever.

Jakob:Sings? I dunno if I want to hear that. I actually assumed he was dead! A man that skinny surely starved to death years ago.

Pete: Ha, yeah I was put off initially then heard some on the radio. He likes his drainpipes!

Jakob: I did read an article about your influences. But what records stayed with you forever?

Pete: Minutemen – Double Nickels / No Means No – Wrong / DOA – Hardcore 81 / Big Boys – Lullabies Help The Brain Grow

Jakob: That’s a lot of music from my hometown, roughly! NoMeansNo and DOA. I suppose that makes sense, in a way, since Manchester music is so important to me. Wrong is certainly one of the finest records ever made though.

Pete: You’re from the Vancouver area? What Manc stuff are you into?

Jakob: Vancouver Island. An hour and a half north of Victoria where NoMeansNo were from. Just the usual old Manc suspects. The Fall, Smiths, Joy Division, Stone Roses, etc.

Pete: Ah cool, my daughter is a big Manc band fan, Joy Division being her favourites! Yeh The Fall, always difficult to pick a favourite album of theirs. Took me a few years to get into them initially.

Jakob: Me too. Once they clicked for me I realised The Fall are the best rock’n’roll band to ever exist. Hex Enduction Hour is my nominal favourite, but how to choose?.

Pete: I agree and I think the line up of the last ten or so years was actually one of the best I’ve seen. Imperial Wax Solvent is currently top of my list, but yeh that’s always changing.

Jakob: An unprecedented consistency. I’d love to have a discography like that. But then you’d have to be Mark E. Smith. Probably not worth it.

Pete: Yeah I think so, guess you can’t have one without the other.

Jakob: I think I’d mellow too much after the first 15 years of being drunk and miserable.

Pete: Absolutely. I gave up drinking almost three months ago, even the thought of it makes me feel sick.

Jakob: I managed to not drink for about six or eight months about a decade ago. That was a good time. But I haven’t gone back to binge drinking since. I can’t even fathom being properly “drunk” now. Plus at my age more than two pints gives me a hangover.

Pete: Yeh I don’t miss it one bit and I feel a lot better physically. No beer gut! Also have a lot more energy which means I can get more stuff done.

Jakob: I think it’s definitely worth the trade-off. Plus not having to be Mark E. Smith.


Trapped In A Pin Hole Camera is out now on Arachnidiscs cassette.


Interred Views: HERACLITUS AKIMBO vs BABEL

20/07/2015

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While still seated on the patio of the Victory Café after chatting about their grunge-era regrets, it was suggested that Jakob Rehlinger (BABEL) and Heraclitus Akimbo (better known as sound archivist Joe Strutt of the esteemed Mechanical Forest Sound blog) should interview each other about their respective releases in Arachnidiscs’ new Extra Limited Run series. BABEL’s MARTIALIS and Heraclitus Akimbo‘s A Part of my Inheritance are both forty minutes long and both involve loops and keyboard-based music, but they are coming from pretty different places. These are the questions that they had for each other…


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Joe Strutt/Heraclitus Akimbo: Tell me about the Extra Limited Run series.

Jakob Rehlinger/BABEL: As the name suggests, it’s very limited runs of albums or split tapes — five to fifteen copies per release. I decided I just wanted to get some blank tapes made with the pad-print of the label logo on it so I could just do limited runs of things sorta cost effectively, but still look kinda official. Honestly, for some releases, ten copies is all that’s needed. When I do a run of fifty of something, I give the artist twenty copies and maybe I sell fifteen pretty quickly. But the remaining five or so sit in my basement forever, slowly dwindling down until it sells out years later. Sometimes I think, “well, maybe I should have only made ten copies.” And this way, if need be, make another ten copies. That’s kinda the philosophy behind it, less waste.

[As it happens, the first run of A Part of my Inheritance has already sold out in pre-orders before the July 27th release date. Naturally, second run is planned and Jakob is wondering if he should’ve done it as a regular release.]

I think it’s very important that an album has some form of physical release, but does it need to be fifty or a hundred copies? Or does it only need to be ten copies for the real die-hards and it can have a digital life after that, but still with the legitimacy of once existing as a physical copy? Which is something I cannot let go of. I have zero interest in turning the label into a digital label. That’ll never happen — I’ll quit before that happens.

Joe: [exaggerated table-thumping for emphasis]

Jakob: [laughs]

Joe: Turning to your tape, I guess I’d start by observing there’s a fair number of BABEL releases…

Jakob: There are! There’s probably too many. But they’re each unique, I think. They’re each a different facet. Some bands, on their bandcamp page there’s this huge grid of a hundred releases and you start going through them and they’re all exactly the same. And you go, “Why? Why do you keep making music?” Whereas I think for the BABEL releases — to pat myself on the back — each album is quite different. I go through phases: percussive prepared guitar, synth, the earlier postrock phase…

Joe: And the same sequential variation is happening in this recent burst? Why have there been so many?

Jakob: I’m always recording. But in October, for no good reason, on a whim, I started recording a thematic album a month. It goes OCTAL, NOVUS, DECIMA, JANIFORM, FEBRIS, MARTIALIS, APRAXIA, MAZE, and then JUNIPER.

Joe: The code! Unveiled! So if you line them all up, it’ll show this long-term musical story of your development? Or decline…

Jakob: Musically, it bounces all over the place. JUNIPER is an American Primitive guitar album. Mini-album or EP. As yet, nobody wants to release it. [laughs] So it might be an Arachnidiscs release.

Joe: You can send that anonymous submission off to Revenant and see what happens.

Jakob: That’s probably a good idea. Maybe I’m aiming too low.

Joe: How many months is it going to go?

Jakob: I haven’t recorded anything in July yet. Since Mandi’s away in Europe right now, I thought I would have a whole album recorded by the time she got back. Maybe two albums. Maybe a double July album, but no. So this might be the end.

Joe: Does MARTIALIS just happen to come along at the time you’re doing the extra limited series, or did you think, “this is one that ten people would want to listen to instead of fifty?”

Jakob: That’s kinda what happened. ‘Cause lately I’ve been going out and hassling other labels into releasing BABEL material to what I think is a shocking amount of success. That they’ve agreed to put these out. OCTAL, I got Kevin Haney to release on Inyrdisk. I did NOVUS myself. DECIMA‘s gonna be released by a sub-label of Jeunesse Cosmique. JANIFORM is on Assembly Field in the UK. FEBRIS just came out on Tymbal Tapes. I think I have a label lined up for APRAXIS. So for MARTIALIS I thought this is maybe one I should release myself, as opposed to trying to get an ambient new age cassette label to put it out. It just felt like one that would be good for this series as opposed to shopping it hard on another label.

Joe: There was no one else in that “heavy Vangelis” niche that you could find?

Jakob: Well, there’s a ton of labels in that niche but I think there’s so many other people doing that I felt like it would be a harder sell… I feel like it’s one of my least unique BABEL recordings. It has the least, “that is definitely BABEL, I can tell right off the top,” whereas some of the other ones have a bit more of a unique artistic slant to them. This one, it was a bit more… it’s a good one for me to do as ten copies and see how it goes.

Although as I was dubbing the copies of all these [Extra Limited Release] albums I really got to enjoy each of them more and more, which I didn’t expect — I thought I’d hate them all by the time I got to the tenth copy. By the end, I was thinking, “wow, I really should have shopped this album to another label to do something more substantial with.” I dunno, just Stockholm Syndrome probably.

Joe: I reacted favourably to it.

Jakob: [laughs] I do think it’s good, but it’s very much a retro-synth album, which is what I was going for. Using space echo effects in a looping style. It’s definitely an aesthetic I was playing with that is well-tread ground.

Joe: Yeah, I said it jokingly a minute ago, but it seems like you’ve torqued the [early period] Tangerine Dream sound of the OCTAL stuff into a more airy Vangelis thing. But then there’s a couple little abrasive moments to wake you up.

Jakob: Yeah. I think it really works well in that aspect. As opposed to just being straight mellow new age pabulum. I think I intentionally added enough stuff that would give it a little more grit. But I feel like it’s kind of an anomaly, at least when I recorded it in March I felt it was an anomaly for BABEL. But then in April I recorded another synth album that was very pointedly synth-oriented, so I guess it’s more of a phase.

But speaking of drone-y/synth-y music based on loops, your album is definitely in that genre. Was this your first stab at it, or is it something that you’ve been secretly doing all along and now you’ve suddenly made this stuff public?

Joe: No, I’ve had other bursts before. I spent a lot more time noodling around with music before I was going to so many shows. And that tailed off once I had the blog and was recording stuff.

Jakob: Which must take up a lot of your time.

Joe: Yeah, so noodling — or recording — has been something that just hasn’t been happening for quite a while. But if you dig back, if you go on my bandcamp, there’s an ambient album there that I recorded about seven years ago. And it’s kinda the same, since I don’t know too many tricks. But instead of the loop pedal, that one was made with this toy I bought from a guy I worked with, a Mixman DM2. It’s like a DJ controller that you could play tracks with and “scratch” on like a turntable. But I accidentally found a way to use it for ambient music, by playing around with the samples that you could load onto it. I generated all these synth tones from an Electribe — an old one, the first version — using it just as a monophonic synth instead of a sequencer. So I had all these synth tones on the Mixman and “played” those to create these drones. So I always liked doing that stuff. I own three Buddha Machines, and sometimes I’d just like to crank them all up at once and live-mix them together. I tinker. Playing with the cheap, low-end gear I have laying around, like the Realistic Concertmate-500, which is the Radio Shack knock-off version of the Casio SK-1.

Jakob: That’s one thing on your album — that keyboard sounds so good. ‘Cause I definitely made a lot of recordings with that. I used to have one of those and I could never make it sound as good. I don’t think I had the know-how at the time. I was probably too [sheltered] to really have witnessed how people do this kind of stuff. So, I’d put a reverb pedal on it and expect it to sound good.

But anything that produces a tone, you can you can make an amazing-sounding synth or ambient album if you just know how to tweak the signal properly. And have the taste to be able to do it. Right? Having an innate taste, as opposed to a talent… [laughs] Taste is the most important element, I think. My problem is ego. I always insert way too much of my own ego into my music. I always want to impress somebody; that’s, way too much of a motivation for me.

Joe: It’s probably not a bad motivation.

Jakob: It’s a good one to be able to push yourself, but I think good music isn’t made when there’s any kind of ego involved… whereas I wanna impress somebody.

Joe: I’d say mine isn’t that ego-driven, except in a backhanded kind of way. Obviously you want people to be impressed by it, but my assumption is, “why in the hell would they be?”

Jakob: It’s because it’s very nice to listen to.

[When Joe transcribed this interview, he apparently deleted a paragraph around here where Jakob tells him how, when Mandi overheard Jakob listening to it, she raved about how much she loved the music not even knowing it was Joe. And how that’s even more significant because she rarely has anything positive to say about music Jakob listens to. It appears Joe is uncomfortable with praise.]

Joe: I think because I’m pretty aware of my limitations I wasn’t doing stuff that would clash. Most of what I recorded, you can just mix all of it together because I was just playing, what’s the word, diatonically? Just on the white keys. And then when I had little melodic moments, it would just be two or three notes in that scale. it’s hard to come up with something that’s an audible clunker like that.

Jakob: I can achieve that. I can go on just the white keys and somehow manage to make the most horrible, discordant racket. So, a lot of people, when they’re getting into this kind of music, they don’t try for any kind of harmony or resonance, they seem to instantly go for the noise end of the genre, as a kind of safety net. “Okay, I’ll just make things discordant. I’ve got this analog synth and I’ll just go blee-oo-wee-oo and nang-nang-nang-nang and make horrible noises.” But you seemed to avoid that altogether and you’ve definitely gone for something that’s very serene and still interesting in that Philip Glass-y, minimalist composer kind of way. Is that a conscious thing you did?

Joe: Well, I have done the opposite. I have distortion pedals and so on. I certainly enjoyed doing that when I played guitar more. And when I had my four-track I’d do that, just layers of abrasiveness. But for this stuff? Not that I dislike noise, but I wanted to make something I could listen back to…

Jakob: You were consciously creating something you wanted to listen to, as opposed to, “I’m going to do something to get on the weird drone scene.”

Joe: I’d say maybe the most immediate thing that was in my head was a piece called “Watermusic II” by William Basinski. It’s an hour long, and pretty minimal and soothing, with textures gently rubbing against each other. it’s one of the things I keep handy to listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep. I think that probably would have been in my head as much as anything else. And I was successful, inasmuch as I find my recordings quite pleasant to fall asleep to.

And I love the infinite malleability of this kind of music. I’d record eight or ten minute “takes” and then mix and layer them together afterwards in Audacity. The funny part with this stuff is, you don’t have to line it up in any particular way for it to align in a way that works.

Jakob: In this kind of music, for sure.

Joe: So there was very little effort…

Jakob: …there’s that happy accident element. You have your take or whatever, and then you line it up with some other stuff, and you realize, “well, I never would have ever consciously thought of doing this, but wow, that works really great.” I think it’s kind of a thing musicians don’t talk about when they work in this field: how much of their music is a happy accident? Literally throwing it against a figurative wall and seeing what sticks.

Joe: For the two-and-a-half hour version of Variation and Variations, I had ten sections, so I made a chart: one through ten on the left channel, then ten through one on the right, and then randomly fill in the opposite channels. And then I just went and copied and pasted that all into Audacity. Move things around so the sections line up and that was the finished product.

Jakob: That’s basically what I do with a lot of BABEL recordings, but I don’t even bother to make a chart. I just organically start doing stuff. What works, works and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I tried doing a thing where I was just recording random synth notes, thinking that I could just put them into the stretch filter in Audacity and it would all work out beautifully. Didn’t work at all. I realized I have to put a little more thought into it at the beginning stage, you can’t just randomly make noise and expect to stretch it out and edit together and have it be this brilliant disaster of an accident that turns into art.

Jakob: When you shared the picture of the tapes I posted today, your caption said something like, “I’m a little uneasy about this, I don’t want people to think I’m passing myself off as a real musician.” So, how uneasy are you about putting your own foot into the pool?

Joe: Well, I spend a fair amount of time around people who are so good at music. So to me it just feels like sheer dilettantism to say, “hey, I’m a musician too!” And worse to say it to someone who’s put their heart and soul into it, and played every day for years and worked their chops out. Even for — or especially for — people who are good enough to play freely in a way that doesn’t sound like they have chops, but who have an amazing amount of musical knowledge to fall back on. So for me to put myself in any way on their level just seems too pretentious.

Jakob: But that would be like saying, oh I dunno, Einstürzende Neubauten should never have made a record or something like that. I mean, there’s a certain period in any musician’s life — and I will, against your wishes, call you a musician — there’s a naïve period, where you’re creating something that is really spectacular. ‘Cause I think your album is really good. I was actually a little upset about how good it is, cause I was like, fuck you, this is the kind of stuff I’m trying to do with BABEL all the time but it just sounds like weird noise or something when I do it. In the art world they call it “naïve art” and when you get a certain amount of chops you can’t create like that anymore. You can’t do it — you over-think things subconsciously. About knowing why what you’re going to do isn’t going to work — that kinda ruins everything. And then you have to get to another level to be able to pull it back.

Joe: When I was thinking about what name to put on this, before I posted the stuff online, I actually had on my list of names this German word, Laienmalerei, which basically translates to “lay painting”, which is basically the same concept as you’re talking about.

Jakob: In the early ’90’s, I was a Joe Satriani shredder kind of guitar player, and I consciously un-trained myself to not ruin everything I played with hair-metal lickage, horrible tapping solos, and whammy-bar divebombs and everything that would just come out subconsciously. Un-training my actual ability to play the guitar was a very conscious thing, but I can also fall back on that technical knowledge if I need to. But I kinda purposely don’t practice very much. Always trying to get back to that naïve period.

But speaking of band names, what is the story behind “Heraclitus Akimbo”?

Joe: Way back, in the time before I was even playing guitar, maybe 2002 or so, I worked at an office job and I’d shoot the shit with a friend of mine who was also really into music. One day, we were talking about what our punk names would be. And we spent the lunch hour or whatever just coming up with lists of punk names. And one of the ones that I came up with, and that stuck with me somehow, was Heraclitus Akimbo. Lingering shades of my big crush on the Presocratics as a youthful philosophy undergrad, probably. But it’s a great punk name: it sounds both awesome and a little goofy.

Jakob: It makes me think of that Kim Mitchell album, Akimbo Alogo.

Joe: I’m not burdened by knowing that specific album.

Jakob: It’s the one with “Go For a Soda” on it.

Joe: Ah. I was just a singles guy for Kim Mitchell. So anyway, once I bought my guitar and wrote all my bad songs, Heraclitus Akimbo was the name they were under. I’ve told this story before, but to recap:

In anticipation of the terror of turning thirty, I bought a guitar. My friend at work, who I had all those list-making rock conversations with, he had a guitar and played a little, so he went with me when I bought my Strat. And we jammed a few times and stuff. He was an English major who was always secretly writing a novel he would never tell anyone about and I thought, “this is great! We’ll start a band and he’ll write the songs, ’cause he was an English major!” So after a little while, once I’d learned four chords, I started asking where the songs were. But there were no songs. So I just started pulling things out from my notebooks — all those pithy bon mots that I was collecting — and cranked out a few songs. And when I made crappy recordings of them I needed something to put on it to make it look like a fake “real album”, so Heraclitus Akimbo it was.

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So that was the origin, and it had really passed out of my mind. But then, earlier this year, my father passed away. I was out in Manitoba for the memorial service, and cleaning some of the stuff out his place. And in his office, where he had all of his music, he had this whole separate pile of all the CD’s I’d sent him, set aside in their own place. So it was nice to see he had some affection for my music. We weren’t always the closest, but we’d bonded over music, and I guess he liked the fact I was doing this stuff. And I also ended up with his guitar and his Boss RC-2 loop pedal. And it was in playing with the loop pedal that I ended up sorta accidentally creating all this music. So that’s why it seemed like the logical name to put on it.

Jakob: It’s not nearly as bad as a lot of names that bedroom recordists choose for their projects. But I wondered: where did that come from? It seemed so random. What is this alter ego? So you had a conscious decision not to put it under your own name. Because in the Toronto underground scene, most people know who you are, or know your blog at least. You’ve got a lot of good will, as evidenced by the response when you posted the photo of the tape… you could just use your name. Like, why not?

Joe: Bandonyms are just better than real names. Always. Even if my name sounds a bit like a fake, made-up stage name…

Jakob: True. if I was going to make a movie about a hair-metal guy who was trying to make it, like a Rock of Ages kind of musical, “Joe Strutt” would be an awesome name for that guy.

Joe: Or a Dickensian rock novel, where your name is your character: “Strutt”.

Jakob: In high school I used to jam with a guy named Clay Caesar, and my dad would say, “he’s got such an awesome rockstar name!” And he did, it was like there was no way that name was real… Clay Caesar! [laughs]

[What Jakob neglected to tell Joe about Clay was how, shortly after he graduated high school, he went into the wooded area behind the tennis courts near his house and shot himself in the heart with a rifle.]

Joe: But yeah, I guess it never occurred to me to put my own name. To use one’s own name just seems boring. If it was, like, singer-songwriter stuff, maybe you put your own name.

Jakob: I started using the name BABEL around the turn of the century, sort of a semi-gothic electronic noise thing, and then I sort of abandoned it for a while to do Moonwood. And [around 2010] when I started re-visiting the type of stuff that would again be called BABEL, I was putting it out under the name “Rehlinger”, as if I were a composer of some renown: “Mozart… Brahms… Rehlinger!” And that lasted for about two months and a few MP3’s I posted somewhere and I realized, “I’m going to start calling it BABEL.” I’m not comfortable using my name at all, and even though I knew for a while that there had to be a lot of other people out there using the name Babel — it’s too much of a common word to be unique — it just seemed like a better route to go.

Joe: Are you familiar with the “other” Babels? Do you keep tabs on their career arcs?

Jakob: I don’t really keep track of them, but I definitely discover a new one every time I sign up for some internet service as Babel: “that name is taken.” And then I have to find some weird spelling, like “Babelmusik” or something like that because there’s a “Babelmusic” already. They’re usually techno artists, though. Oddly, I have not found a single dub artist named Babel. I feel like the Babel/Babylon thing… too obvious? How is there not a dub artist named Babel?

Joe: That’d be like evil dub, right? Babylon Dub.

Jakob: It doesn’t have to be a good Rastafarian. It could be the Satanist version of Rastafarianism. He’s totally for the cops.

Joe: He gets a haircut regularly.

Jakob: He’s a skinhead! [laughs] Lotta techno artists named Babel. Lotta flamenco, and an Italian neo-classical sort of thing. There’s an Italian metal band. They posted a video where it’s just their singer screaming into the microphone. You can’t hear the band, just an isolated vocal track, fifteen seconds of him shrieking. I was like, “Wow, this is great!” When you go into youtube, the first hit under Babel is this guy screaming and probably somebody’s gonna think that’s me. And it’s awesome.

And then, also, the Brad Pitt movie, when you google “babel” it’s all Brad Pitt movie for two pages before there’s anything resembling me. I mean, for branding I should have gone with my last name and just stuck with it and persevered and not felt awkward about it but it felt like at the time it was too hard for people to remember or even pronounce correctly. It bothers me when people say “rell-in-jer”.

Joe: Oh shit, I always have. Until two seconds ago.

Heraclitus Akimbo’s A Part of My Inheritance and BABEL’s Martialis both release on 7/27/15 along with Hirudinea by Louis Law. You can order any or all of them HERE.

First Three XLR


Interred Views: The Urbane Decay

17/07/2015

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Joe Strutt of the Mechanical Forest Sound blog sat down with Jakob Rehlinger, of (BABEL, Moonwood, Reverend Moon and also) The Urbane Decay to discuss the ’90s, personal identity, mercurial nature of memory, grunge typography, and Canadian nerdcore.


In a moment of admirable modesty, Jakob realized that he probably couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) interview himself for this column on the release of his Urbane Decay EP, so he asked me to pinch hit. Intrigued as I was by his liner notes (and, I suppose, the music as well) I agreed to meet up with him on the patio of the Victory Café. Jakob had some manner of fancy beer in a goblet-like glass. I had a radler and was not mocked for doing so, which I thought was a good start.

For those of us who know Jakob in his latter-day bearded/hooded weird-music making manifestation, it takes a bit of adjustment to realize that a younger/beardless*/hoodless version of him had a fairly straight-ahead grunge-inspired (and occasionally new wave) band. (* though there might have been a goatee involved) The “mainly maudlin and mopey” Urbane Decay was mostly active between 2002 and 2009, and its bandcamp offers a slightly-baffling variety of releases with a variety of Young Jakobs emoting furiously in various degrees of earnestness and glumness, his piercing gaze almost daring you to just fucking feel the depths of his angst and heartbreak.

A comeback single for the project last summer has now lead to a new EP. Unsurprisingly, this is the work of a different musician and songwriter, exchanging heart-on-sleeve emotion for a more refracted (and dare we say mature?) recherche du temps perdu. Is it nostalgia? Yes but no — there’s a nestling here into the past’s warm bosom, but at the same time also an intense awareness that our idealised reconstructions of the past are not at all like the past itself. This is something that I used to think a lot about, and this is where our conversation begins…

All right, we’re chatting about the Cellophane EP. So, besides the musical element, the philosophical basis of this release is: “identity is a lie”. Correct?

[laughs] Do you mean, like “the concept of the EP”? It’s not really the concept of the EP, it’s just how it ended up.

You got to that by accident?

I got to that by accident. I didn’t intend for that to come across as an artistic statement.

Maybe just because I totally engaged with that…

You’re referring to the liner notes, where I talk about going back to my late teens, early 20’s, and being like: “this is all the music I listened to and I’m paying homage to it.” Then I realized: no, I actually listened to Barenaked Ladies and Crash Test Dummies and MC Hammer at the time. I had Hüsker Dü tapes and stuff, but none of the majority of my daily listening is mirrored on the tape. So it ended up becoming a lie, trying to make myself seem cool. [pause] Street cred and all that.

So, you really need a tape that shows your Barenaked Ladies and Timbuk3 influences.

I guess I could record that… or maybe I did! Maybe that really comes through as well. In my mind, this sounds like a really bitchin’ kinda Sugar meets Bleach-era Nirvana/Chapterhouse thing but maybe it just sounds like a slightly-distorted Timbuk3. [laughs] Or like Chad Kroeger fronting Barenaked Ladies or something horrible like that. At a certain point, my conception of what my music actually sounds like to other people is completely off… like, I completely missed any kind of Bob Mould influence on that tape until Ken from Everything is Geometry said, “yr Urbane Decay tape is very Bob Mould. I dig it.” And I was like, “yeah, you’re right. It’s all Bob Mould riffs!”

Grunge will out.

Yeah. I intended it as grunge with a little bit of Madchester and all that stuff from that period that I still enjoy listening to. As opposed to what I was literally listening to on a daily basis. There’s not a lot of Pogues in there. I listened to a lot of Pogues. But there’s no tin whistles.

And so is this just something that was just dying to be pushed out of you? Or was it a theoretical exercise?

It was a complete whim. Last summer, I was going back to B.C. and I knew I’d be seeing Ken [from Everything is Geometry] and we’d been part of an indie-rock scene together, so it just got me thinking about that kind of music. And then I just had this urge to write and record some of that music. So over two weekends, I recorded the EP. With five or six other songs I abandoned, ’cause they were horrifically bad. I didn’t sit around and come up with a concept, just “I feel like recording some late 80’s style indie rock.”

Did you get into a specific mind-state to do this? Did you just sit and play riffs, or did you have a grunge notebook with ideas for these kinds of songs?

From being in grunge bands and stuff back in the day, I just knew how to play the riffs. And from all my other previous attempts at shoegaze or whatever, I just knew what kind of chords to use. For the music, I’d sit down and write some riffs and the more immediate and the less I thought about it the better it would work. Some of the lyrics were stuff that was left over from the Reverend Moon album and I just sort of tweaked it a bit to be a little less apocalyptic and a little more…

Slacker?

Yeah. [laughs]

Well, there is a sort of… not quite a worldview, but a world-sense to it, ’cause “taste” comes up in almost all the songs…

I suppose. I didn’t really think about that. But there were a lot of references to pizza and vomit. There’s a sort of extra set of liner notes that are going in a cheaply photocopied fold-up, sorta of the time, and I was writing some pretty pretentious liner notes for each song as if it was a re-issue thirty years on, like Lou Barlow looking back to a Sebadoh album talking about what inspired his songs, and after I was like, “wow, it’s all about food!” Food and cars or something. Weird things that pop up that I don’t know are important themes to me, but somehow I associate them with those times. I dunno.

And sound-wise, did you have specific effects and stuff that’s different then your normal setup?

Well, the guitar sound is definitely very different than what I would do with Moonwood… I tried to make it as not-psychedelic as possible, but retain a little bit of that psychedelia that alt-rock had, the tracings… all grunge guitars have a bit of a Hendrix sound, or a Tony Iommi sound, just de facto by their influences. With Moonwood, I generally try and blow that out and make it as psychedelic as possible, so I tried to strip it back. I tried to make it sound lo-fi without it actually being lo-fi. That was probably the most contrived part of it, making it sound like it was recorded on a four-track cassette though it’s actually a digital recording.

You didn’t wanna go all the way back?

Considered it. But I wanted more editing ability. There isn’t a lot of editing I ended up doing, but I wanted the drums to not be all on one track and be able to have them sound… good. [laughs] I’m not really a fan of lo-fi. Mid-fi I like. Lo-fi, except for the times where it really works well… there’s only a few true masters of lo-fi sound out there. Maybe Lou Barlow.

And there’s a lot of crappy, crappy Lou Barlow.

Yeah, on the writing end and the recording end. I guess it was more when Sebadoh went more into that mid-fi range, before they went hi-fi, there was a lotta magic there, and that’s the kind of area I was trying to re-create, if anything.

I had some era-specific regrets about some Sentridoh stuff I bought.

Yeah, I don’t think I ever found a single Sentridoh album I could get behind. And the worst part about that is I feel like it spawned so many people who felt it was totally okay to do that, and it just killed lo-fi as a genre.

You talked about the idea of coming late to the cool stuff. I know I got into Sebadoh a little later. I never heard III or Freed Weed when they came out, but I was into Harmacy and Bakesale.

Bakesale is definitely the one I came in on. And I was resistant to get into it. I can’t remember why… I think I thought the graphic design looked so shitty… that intentionally cut-up bits of National Geographic ’90’s graphic design… the intentional slacker we-don’t-care aesthetic bothered me for some reason. But once I got over that, that album is amazing. And Harmacy is kinda bad.

I haven’t revisited it, which maybe is good. I remember it was still a fairly big deal at the time when it came out.

It’s not bad. In retrospect it’s kinda lackluster where Bakesale and the three before it really hold up.

As a designer, you must have essays to write about the evils of “grunge typography“.

[laughs] I don’t know. I think I kinda got over that. There’s such a nostalgic pull toward the really terrible typography that’s on Superchunk records. I really like it in its own way — the poorly-kerned used of Helvetica, and stuff like that… stretched type, like on a Mother Love Bone tape… it’s horrible but I have such warm, nostalgic feelings for it. What I didn’t do for the graphic design for this tape that is very 90’s is like a black box with reverse type on it. I was going for more of a shoegaze look for the graphics.

The British stuff I was mostly not into at all at the time. I somehow just missed out entirely.

In Vancouver there was a radio station that played almost exclusively Britpop and Madchester stuff, in ’89 to ’91 when they went off the air, I think. Maybe ’92. So yeah, I was totally into it, ’cause I turned on the radio and you’d actually hear it. This was actually a commercial radio station, which was a weird thing… that was where I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and stuff, just played as part of their top 40. Way early on, super-early adopters, it was bizarre. If I didn’t have that experience, I certainly never would have heard Stone Roses, probably. Just wouldn’t have been something that would have been on my radar, ‘cept for some reference I saw in a fanzine or something. But it was getting played all the time on the radio. And I was, “wow, here’s this great new band from Britain.” And I sorta got into that whole scene through them, and it was, like, all I would listen to. When I wasn’t listening to Crash Test Dummies, of course.

It was particularly resonant when you talked in the liner notes that the Barenaked Ladies being the true face of Canadian DIY, ’cause that was so huge…

Well, totally. That’s what made me believe I could put out my own tapes, and that that would be a viable option… At seventeen, I was so anti-major labels and getting signed, I had this idea in my head that if you were going to be on the major labels, first you had to have your own Yellow Tape. [laughs] And if you got a record deal that way, that was okay, but otherwise… [pause] I was seventeen. I was crazy. I had no idea how the real world worked at all. So my band had our Blue and Red Tape.

At that time, they had distribution at HMV, so even in Winnipeg — or B.C., I guess — you could go and buy this independent tape…

…which was on this shitty, photocopied yellow card stock. It was horrific, everything about it. What was the graphic, like a hot dog? A hamburger? Some sort of shitty, hand-drawn graphic.

They were a band with the worst graphic design sense ever. I mean the Gordon cover…

Well, that 3-D, CGI graphic of a bouncing ball? That’s amazing. [laughs]

Amazing’s one word.

“Regrettable” is another.

But that was all such a big deal! The Yellow Tape, and then, at the same time, that “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” video

…which is actually really good. It’s, like, the height of their actual artistry. Maybe because they didn’t write the song. But also far, far better than a lot of stuff than Bruce Cockburn’s ever done.

And they had legit cred! Billy Bragg was covering them!

The worst thing about them, though was… I was a fairly big, without thinking about my motivations for it, Housemartins fan for a little bit. And I was driving a friend somewhere, and she goes, “is this Barenaked Ladies?” And I suddenly realized, “oh my God, Housemartins sound exactly like Barenaked Ladies.” Where in my mind, Housemartins were like The Smiths, but jauntier. But really, they’re like a happier Barenaked Ladies. And it just destroyed that band for me. They’re like Barenaked Ladies with good graphic design, maybe.

And a socialist agenda. But the real worst thing about Barenaked Ladies was that they opened the door for Jian Ghomeshi.

[laughs] Yeah. That Moxy Früvous tape is another thing I didn’t put in the liner notes but that… I mean, I had the triumvirate: I had Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies, and Moxy Früvous in heavy rotation in my car. As were N.W.A. and Nirvana, but I had a solid Canadian nerd-rock element in my listening, with no trace of irony. I thought it was bad-assed awesome. “King of Spain”, what a great jam! [laughs] “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors”, that’s such a clever song!

That was where I drew the line. I did not fall for Moxy Früvous. I must have just had the right mix of other random influences.

I also had the misfortune of having a girlfriend at the time who also loved that tape, and I think maybe I could have skipped over it or had a passing fancy without her influence, but I think I kinda gotta own the fact that I enjoyed Bargainville. [pause] A lot. [pause] Probably wore that tape out. It’s… horrific. [pause] In my defence, I didn’t know who Jian Ghomeshi was, I didn’t have foresight or even know he was in the band when he was the host of CBC’s Play and I started hating him immediately. But there was no Moxy Fruvous shame in my hating him. It was genuine — I just disliked that man from the get-go. Except for Moxy Fruvous, which I apparently thought was delightful. [laughs]

And it comes out in the EP.

I think some of the lyrics are just as goofy as anything those bands wrote. I mean, I probably can’t get away from that. Or I dunno, maybe I did do a reasonable facsimile of cynical slacker lyrics. I find the lyrics on the EP quite hilarious myself, but it’s supposed to be more deadpan hilarity.

It’s also just the sort of hilarity that is also something that a nineteen year old could take so seriously.

Yeah.

And anyone else would be like, “dude, just take off the black shirt already.”

Jakob never did take off that black shirt as can be heard on Cellophane which releases via Arachnidiscs Recordings’ NO LOVE imprint on 07/24/2015. Order it HERE.


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Joe Strutt.


Interred Views: Lost Trail

05/05/2015

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I can’t remember how Zachary Corsa and I first got to know each other, but it had something to do with being lefty pinkos ganging up on someone we didn’t agree with on a Facebook thread. It probably had to do with gun control or same-sex marriage. Anyway, we became fast friends and there’s been this idea floating around I’d release something by Lost Trail, who I had this vague understanding was kind of a big deal. If you’re unfamiliar with them, this is from their website:

LOST TRAIL is the ambient/dronegaze/experimental noise project of husband-and-wife duo Zachary Corsa and Denny Wilkerson Corsa. Based in the mysterious small city of Burlington, NC, The Corsas utilize lo-fi and obsolete recording technology in their music, aiming to capture a sense of atmosphere and landscape in both man-made and wild environments. Working primarily with second-hand analog equipment, their work is a vivid patchwork collage of damaged cassette loops, field recordings, primitive percussion, layers of ethereal guitar drones, wailing feedback and static, and skeletal traces of antique piano and organ. The themes of Lost Trail’s work often include a sense of the otherworldly or supernatural, strong ties to nature, human calamity, and a fascination with the concept of passionate belief systems. The songs themselves are raw, broken, minimalist, imperfect, emotionally resounding and chaotically unpredictable, all composed in the spirit of reckless, heedless improvisation.

That all seems fairly reductive, not really capturing how Lost Trail winds through the wilderness and where it leads. But if called upon, I’d have to be even further reductive and just say: Magic.


Arachnidiscs Recordings: Dude. What’s up with your country?

Zachary Corsa: Ha, I take no responsibility for the state of America at the moment. I think what’s important to remember is that a good 80 percent of people here are NOT total fucking lunatics, and we’re as dismayed by the current state of affairs here as anyone else. It’s a frightening place to be right now, especially if you have a love for this country and the landscape and most of its people. But these things go in cycles. If nothing else, right now its generating some awesome art.

ADR: Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Kent State massacre. It does seem like things are going in cycles.

ZC: We’re definitely in a valley, but there’s peaks to be found. there’s people here committed to change and moving forward. It’s easy to forget that America is a beautiful country with a lot of great people and art. On the surface it just seems like an over-commercialized consumerist hell of stupidity, reality TV, megachurches and Best Buys. but there’s more here.

ADR: “Over-commercialized consumerist hell of stupidity, reality TV, megachurches and Best Buys.” That pretty much describes Canada right now. Only perhaps we have fewer actual mega-churches. So right now what are these peaks in American culture you mentioned?

ZC: Marriage equality, despite all desperate and petty efforts to stop it, is becoming a reality, for one. Ditto for marijuana legalization. I also think the current political and social climate is encouraging amazing art. The situation with North Carolina’s extreme rightward drift has resulted in a real banding together within the arts community here. People are united, people who weren’t politically conscious are allowing themselves to be arrested on the capitol steps if it means drawing attention to Pat McCrory and his cronies and what they’re doing to our state. People won’t put up with being pushed around like this, and I think there’s going to be some big paradigm shifts soon in this country.

People are also having their eyes opened to the current state of our law enforcement in this country, and to institutionalized racism they blithely ignored for years.

ADR: Yeah, that’s something I wonder about when you watch the news, or go online or whatever people do now, things seem so dark. The perception is it feels like things have gotten a lot nastier since the ’80s and ’90s. But if you watch comedies from that period, they’re rife with homophobic humour. It was just rote to make fun of effeminate men and butchy women. Whereas now that’s more often seen as not OK. So maybe things are a bit better now, but it’s just that people are less willing to accept such a low bar of enlightenment. Same with “dirty cops” killing kids. That was just an okay thing for cops to do in those films.

ZC: There’s always going to be an element of hero and vigilante worship in western culture. We always need an “other” to demonize and scapegoat for our own issues. It’s never going to go away. But it helps to look at individual interactions and smaller communities. On the whole, people still treat each other decently here. The flipside of that is that my perspective is that of a white middle-class male. Living in a mostly-minority neighborhood, I see the dark side of that reality all too often.

ADR: Let’s set the larger scope of society aside and focus on your neighborhood. Tell us about about where you live and the scene there.

ZC: Burlington is a small city that was once one of the textile and hosiery capitals of the country. It’s a typical story in America, though. The jobs have gone overseas, the mills are abandoned, and the city’s become a place of drug use, poverty, blight, gangs, etc. Burlington is halfway between two larger metropolitan areas (Greensboro & Winston-Salem to the west, Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill to the east), so its always a bit orphaned and shunned. It doesn’t have the cultural currency those other towns have. Our university, Elon, is far enough outside of town that student life doesn’t intersect with city life.

The other side of that is that there’s a beautiful downtown that’s being revitalized, and a great arts scene. Visual art especially, folks like Stewart Sineath, Gary Smith, and Albert Kauslick. Music-wise, there’s some really great bands, too. Nathan Arizona, Crumb Catcher. Not much in the way of experimental stuff that I know of, mostly just us and our friend Tim Collapse, who makes great stuff as Animals Like Earthquakes. We moved here because we could find a big old house (in our case, 1910) to record in for cheap.

Burlington also has a fascinating history. It’s a strange place. The vibe here is Lynchian and otherworldly at times. The city history is full of unsolved murders, rumors of demon worship, hauntings, serial killers, mythical monsters, unexplained fires and explosions, secret government work… It’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever been.

ADR:  That sounds amazing. What’s the weather like?

ZC:  Central NC is usually hot summers and very mild winters, but the last couple of winters have been rough. Of course, rough for us is ten-fifteen degree days. Usually the winters are just rainy and a little nippy.

ADR: That’s about -10 in Canadian degrees, not bad. When you say hot, how hot does it get? Toronto’s winters are beginning to get me down.

ZC:  Upwards of 110-112 that I can remember. The humidity is what really gets to you. sticking to everything. Driving is a herculean exercise in tolerance.

ADR:  Holy crap. That’s 44 in Canadian, plus humidity… Yeah, I’m staying put. Not that your government would let me move down there anyway.

ZC: And yet Canada is Xanadu to so many of us disillusioned American progressives.

ADR:  Canada and it’s ongoing state mandated genocide of the First Nations peoples? We’re basically starving the Inuit to death. Canada is secretly barbaric.

ZC: Grass is always greener, I suppose, even Genocide Grass

ADR:  That is a GOOD band name. Well, sort of.

ZC: The folks who are so far to the left that every single thing offends them would never let you tour.

ADR:  And the far right would claim I was infringing on their religious freedom somehow.

ZC: Yep! They think criticism equals persecution.

ADR:  That’s one thing about Canada, Genocide Grass would probably be allowed to tour. The left-wing knee-jerk censorship grass is probably greener here. So, when we talked before, you didn’t have much info on the mysterious DOR. Any new information?

ZC: DOR are shady. Two dudes (John Rutherford, Jacob Worden) near Charlotte that churn out the good stuff. Charlotte’s our biggest city, about 90 minutes south of where Denny and I live and that’s about all I know about ’em! They’re mysterious. I’ve not met either of them in person. I was frankly surprised at their location when I discovered their music. Charlotte has a reputation as a cultural wasteland to the rest of North Carolina, despite being such a huge city. Probably unfair. But we’ve never played in Charlotte despite being 90 minutes up the road. Charlotte is pretty into malls and Nascar.

ADR: I wonder if the royal baby was named after Charlotte?

ZC: Should’ve named her Dale Jr.

ADR: I would’ve won the office pool then.

ZC:  I’ll never grasp the appeal of seeing cars drive around an oval for three hours

ADR: Sometimes they spin-out and burst into flame, I think.

ZC: Maybe there’s YouTube compilations. I’d be fine with just watching that for a few hours. Do they have roller derbies in Canada?

ADR: Oh yeah. I went to one a couple years ago. They weren’t very fast though. Not like in the movies.

ZC: Languid roller derby. I cant think of anything sadder

ADR: It was like they were falling down in bullet-time.

ZC: That makes me think of dancing bears being cattle-prodded to get up and sway for a few precarious seconds before collapsing.

ADR: I think you just thought of something sadder.

You can pre-order the split cassette with LOST TRAIL and DOR at Arachnidiscs Recordings Bandcamp.

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Pre-orders come with a magic claw foot talisman for good or bad luck (your choice).


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


Interred Views: Partli Cloudi

24/04/2015

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1011179_10151856692286711_79249168_nMild-mannered librarian by day, by late-afternoon Vancouver Island’s Stephen Wolf turns into the mild-mannered basement recordist named Partli Cloudi. A weaver of detailed audio tapestries, adding his own acoustic flourishes and electronic embellishments to a secret world of woozy found-sound, Wolf exudes the mystique of the mystical artiste who lives on the fringes. It’s the sort with a facade of eccentricity that people feel compelled to chip away at in order to discover the real person hiding within. Well, let me tell you, I’ve known Stephen for a long time and there is no end to the onion-like layers you could peel away. And if you did peel him down to the core, you’d find you were right back where you started because it’s not a facade. Stephen is one of those rare genuinely deep dudes whose zen-like demeanor and quiet wisdom isn’t an affectation.

I caught up with him (or, like always, tried to catch up to where he’s at) to discuss Watermelon Cauliflower, his second release on Arachnidiscs Recordings. And, of course, I forgot to ask him exactly what a “watermelon cauliflower” is.

Arachnidiscs Recordings: It’s been a while since I left Vancouver Island. There wasn’t much of a weirdo music scene there at the time, but what did exist was pretty tight-knit. What’s it like now?

Partli Cloudi:  I am probably the last person to ask about a scene of any kind, being somewhat socially inept and challenged geographically by living on the outskirts of a small town. But if by weirdo you mean music that is not based on peer acceptance and/or the pursuit of peanuts, then I don’t think there is any scene.

Not to say there aren’t interesting artists all over doing great things in isolation that zero to few people will ever hear. But when you typically have to wade through the dominant culture and dominant sub-culture just to hear music outside of the conventions of rock etc, then you quickly tire with the realization of how alone you are.

My brother and I went to hear David Behrman speak at the University of Victoria a few months ago and we were the only non-students, in other words the only non-mandated attendees. Gordon Mumma was sitting beside David and they reminisced while they presented a slide show of his old electronic contraptions and played some pre-recorded samples. That same night I went to an indie rock basement show and the place was packed full of free-range hipsters posing in front of each other, taking selfies, and talking over the music, was that a scene?

ADR: That would be the definition of a capital-S Scene. It’s interesting what you’re implying about “peer acceptance” being a factor even with people making weird music. I know when I write or record something, it’s often through the filter of “What would Stephen think of this?” which, although I trust your judgement, I know isn’t exactly a productive filter to have in place. I also usually completely ignore it. Anyway, are you saying, even if your peers are creative weirdos, that the moment peer acceptance enters the equation the art is corrupted?

PC: For a weirdo to have peers would negate the weirdo’s weirdness, so it may technically be impossible. But it is not like art has ever been sacred and free from the corruption of getting paid, or getting laid or even just fed. I would concede that audiences essentially want to be entertained, but it is the duty of the artist to decide how far to pander and how far to challenge.

ADR: Watermelon Cauliflower, at first blush, seems to have zero discernible pandering. It’s one WTF moment after another. But it also doesn’t break from the forms people enjoyed about the previous album (Two Moron Ever Nose). Was that conscious? Were you giving the few people who bought Two Moron Ever Nose what they wanted?

PC: I would get nervous at the idea that someone is listening, so I probably would block any idea of audience out. Having no audience (perceived or otherwise) is more freeing. No consciousness was used in the making of this recording. I try to convert imagination into sound and back again, once I get to a freed state it begins to create itself, I might only awaken to clean up and hope that this time the tape machine was recording.

ADR: Okay, let’s maybe talk about about “the making of this recording” as you put it. I like to think I’m pretty well versed in this kind of thing, but I have trouble picking out what’s a sample, a found-sound and what is you actually playing an instrument. What’s your modus operandi?

PC: I do a lot of field recordings and have a huge collection of cassettes, many made on top of pre-recorded sources: music, audiobooks or thrift store mixtapes, then overdubbed with basement jams, old demos, or rhythms taken from rehearsals of other bands, with bits leaking into different surfaces and/or finally overdubbed by myself in my basement. Afterwards I wire up all my recorders into an ancient PC with an old version of Sound Forge you gave me 15 years ago, and essentially I play the 4-track recorders into it to make the end products. I like delay pedals as a means of time travel, but sampler technology is black hole that is already filled up. Since I stay away from most things digital, degredation and tape hiss can be a problem and an opportunity. It is super time consuming and does not lend itself to any precision, I really have no idea where anything is going to end up, no two takes are ever the same.

ADR: One of those situations where technological limitations leads to inspiration?

PC: Yeah, but I feel like I have way more technology than I can handle.

ADR: Getting back to what you were saying about not recording for an audience. It reminded me of some things I’ve be thinking about lately. About why we do this at all. What’s the point of making our music available to an audience? Why do you make these recordings and why do you make them public?

PC: I guess it is same question as to why we are here? Why exist? I was born into a fragile body that has an intense need to eat, breathe, paint and create rickety rotten soundscapes. I cannot escape it, and feel like I am dying inside if I try to stop. The process is not all sunshine and kittens and in fact is probably detrimental to my health and prosperity — I pray somebody somewhere in the vast continuum of time and space needs a Partli Cloudi recording for a some mysterious divine purpose, otherwise it is all for nothing.

Watermelon Cauliflower releases on May 1st, 2015. You can buy it here.

If you’re interested in more of Stephen’s views on music, his blog Shelf Dwindle is one of the best repositories of music writing alive today. Also, you can listen to the below podcast episode where we sat down to discuss (and  slaughter) the “sacred cows” of rock’n’roll.


Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.


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