One hundred and twenty eight releases in under two years, each one under 30 seconds long. Such are the boggling statistics of the Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty Records label, whose discography is, to put it mildly, a confounding browse. Releases include:
MOURNHOLD by LIL QWERTZASDF (AkūTr007, 2019)
A Red Score In Tile (William Basinski Cover) by flac.aeyt3eaywsyh4ey (AkūTr015, 2019)
I Had Hella Titles Stashed In Some TXT File But Most Of Them I Think Were Too Offensive For This Label, And I Also Dunno Where That TXT Is Cuz Im Also Hella Awful (Had Some Covers Too, RIP) (19/2/20) by mhzesent (AkūTr117, 2020)
There is even a series of split releases, the Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty Records Three Way Split Series, which each cram three artists together in under thirty seconds total.
This madness is marshaled by an artist named Jacob Levesque, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. He tells me he currently works part-time “not doing anything interesting,” but spends his free time creating music and art. Since 2015, he has run an experimental music net label called The Dark Thursday, where he has established an irreverent and perplexing collision of post-internet age avant-audio, eye-splitting visuals, and linguistic chaos.
Via email, Levesque introduces me to the concept of “low effort music,” which he says governs the Archiseztsfew-koū aesethetic. “I have always doubted my ability to make ‘serious’ or ‘good’ music because, in a solo capacity, I really only worked on experimental things,” he tells me. “I didn’t know at the time how to apply my sound collage-y skill set to things more people would like or take seriously. So my answer to that, I think, was to double down on experimental and low effort work.”
Levesque tells me that this tendency has its basis in chronic depression, linked to a feeling of low self-esteem in regard to his artistic abilities. Paradoxically, these psychological traits have helped give rise to an enormous body of work. As the label head behind Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty, he has published his own work and attracted the attention of several other artists, many of whom have repeatedly tapped on Levesque’s shoulder to release music.
One such producer is the eclectic Polish producer mhzesent, who has put out (or appeared on) 23 releases. mhzesent’s own discography extends far beyond Levesque’s label, with droves of releases on experimental net labels with colourful names like Genetic Trance, Monolithic Disclipline Recordings, and Centipede Farm. “I haven’t spoken to them in some months, but they would send many releases to me for both of my labels,” Levesque says. “The very interesting thing to me about their work is the variation and how personal it can be.”
Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty’s name is characteristic of the semantic absurdity Levesque embraces. “It just sounded cool,” he says. “It is vaguely inspired by New Zealand’s native language, Maori. It’s a language that I have been around culturally for my whole life, and I like how it sounds and reads as a language. It’s the koū part at the end.”
When he started Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty, Levesque had already become internet friends with several artists through his main label, and this allowed him to rapidly build up a discography for his new project. “I was already running my main label, The Dark Thursday and had run compilations with length restrictions. It was inspired by those and very short form genres like gorenoise and grindcore.”
The goal was to have fun and to establish “a platform for super niche and strange things.” That has involved a number of strange concepts:
Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit - FVEY (Pronounced Five Eyes) Is The Ninth Studio Album By New Zealand Alternative Rock Band Shihad, Released On 8 August 2014.
This release is 28 seconds of an unchanging tone, with a haunting vocal drone over top. It is, peculiarly, punctuated by short spells of silence.
Levesque explains: “The audio is just sine waves, me throat singing a bit (I’m not good), and sampling a very old track of mine from like 2015 (the glassy sounding stuff). It does contain a picture from the wiki, plus some stuff in reference to the band Shihad’s album FVEY. The title came off a bit cringey to me so I just wanted to take a bit from the wikipedia page.”
phonecallsforbedtime – Moing Moing Popular Songs Moing Bmoigf
Sixteen seconds of spooky, industrial-tinged sound collage.
Levesque: “The audio is some weird mouth sounds and some of my old tracks smashed together and chopped up, then coated in reverb. I keep a list of albums i’ve listened to since 2014, so there is a screen cap of that. Then I wrote sleep over the top because I needed to do so. The rest is pretty looking fluff.”
MyrT8. – Su558555551
Twelve seconds of incidental audio and dinky keys.
Levesque says: “I don’t recall where the weird key tones are from, but they are over the top of me crushing something onto my phone, some kind of plastic I think? The photo is of the Wellington Metservice building that I took from the Wellington Botanic Gardens rose beds from when I was visiting Wellington last year. It’s like a 1 hour, 15 minute flight from Auckland and is half way down the country.”
This is an unchanging, tinny drone that lasts exactly 30 seconds.
As Levesque explains, this record “was made solely because of the cover. I saw a miso paste packet and thought adding the word beat and a heart emoji over the top was mildly amusing. A lot of my stuff came about in this sort of low effort fashion. “
W I D E D R O N E – W I D E D R O N E
Despite its hypnotic cover, this is simple an unwavering and unchanging tone that lasts for 30 seconds.
Levesque puts it bluntly, summing up the “low effort” aesthetic: “Nothing more than tone generation in Audacity.”
Levesque is philosophical about what Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty represents — and more than a bit nihilistic. “I guess almost a fundamental rejection that music had to meet certain objective qualities to be called music, that anything can be music. I don’t hold too strongly to that though, part of the point also is that I don’t hold strongly to anything in particular.”
This year, Levesque shut down both The Dark Thursday and this eccentric sublabel. One wonders if the label helped serve as a catalyst for Levesque’s efforts to grow emotionally. As he helps put to words the concept of “low effort music,” he explains that this aesthetic can function as a crutch. “The mental health issues make it difficult to care about things at all,” he reflects. “I don’t usually have the emotional capacity nor did I used to see a point in extending any empathy or sympathy outside of myself and a few people that I’m around. As time has gone on, I’ve realized in working to become a healthier person, empathy and sympathy towards others is important for me personally, so I can start feeling more like a normal human being.
“Despite that I still consider myself a work in progress so to speak. Trying to attach myself to things is still something I struggle with.”
Thanks to Jacob Levesque for the interview. The label’s website is here. Jacob posts his unique artwork here.
“It’s just a perfect teen bedroom demo, just one guy and his guitar just whining.”
How would one enumerate the sheer amount of music on cassette that exists in the world? It is impossible.
As I argued in my recent article about Ezra Fike’s Cassette Archive, while reissue labels have recently been occupied with unearthing strange old private press records — esoteric cult phenomena like the singular Lewis — it is obvious that the body of privately recorded cassette releases dwarfs the number of vinyl records, likely by several orders of magnitude. After all, cassettes are much less expensive to dub than records are to press, and the tape’s heyday coincided with the democratization of audio production, both in the form of home recording and inexpensive recording studio time.
Which leads me to Bennett Williamson, an artist, a musician, former radio DJ, and current department manager at UC Santa Cruz’s Digital Arts & New Media program. He also likes cassettes. Although he once hosted his own show on WFMU, it was actually a guest spot that drew my eye. In 2008, he guest DJ’d on Marty McSorley’s show, playing a three hour set of tapes sourced exclusively from thrift stores, alongside one of McSorley’s friends, Forest. Incidentally, one of the tapes they played was a limited-to-ten-copy tape discussed in my profile on Unread Records: Erik Sahd’s Right Now You’re Always Been Here.
I believe that we’ve only discovered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many tapes that exist in the world. Every day, who knows how many home recordings, band demos, and small-run releases disappear to the annals of time? Williamson, who has sourced tapes from thrift stores for years, agrees. But whereas I worry that the iceberg is slowly melting, last extant copies of cassettes dissolving into the ether as they’re euthanized from Goodwill racks or tossed out unsold after family yard sales, Williamson diverges from this archivist mentalist.
“Yeah but, you know, to take it one way: so what?” he asks. “The idea that we can have instant access and preserve all music from all times is false. In fact, it’s really good that media and ideas and music recede beyond the horizon of human understanding. If they’re bad, they can go away, and hopefully never come back.
“That’s a way that I can justify not hanging on to stuff. It’s cool that this thing got to live a life with me, and I got to appreciate it. I don’t know what’s going to happen to it next. But even that amount of existence that it had is a positive thing.”
Yet the joy of exhuming lost tapes is not lost on him. He is keen to differentiate his love of finding cassettes from the types of “grail records” that collectors spend fortunes acquiring. “I’m really not into that type of record collecting — I’m not good at keeping lists of things, and I don’t have alerts on Discogs or anything like that. I’m much more interested in discovering something I’ve never heard of, and tapes do that very specifically. They’ve always been a cheap way to get a new idea out into the world.”
When it comes to tape rummaging, the cost of entry is so low: thrift stores often sell them for a quarter apiece, and tapes tend to offer a greater variety of opportunities than the average vinyl bargain bin. In any given Goodwill, you’re liable to encounter home tapes, band demos, answering machine cassettes, commercial releases from the 70s through 90s, and scads of self-released/private-press music projects.
As Williamson puts it: “Since it’s low stakes, you’re like, well, the artwork’s not giving me much on this one, but one track’s got a cool name, and I see there’s a synthesizer listed amongst the instruments, so I’ll go for it, maybe it’s worth it.”
But he is also committed to holding on to those tapes that make a lasting impression. Over the years he has whittled his collection of thrift-store tapes down to the essentials. “I’ve definitely pared down and gotten rid of a bunch of stuff over the years, and I think I’ve kept certain ones because they’re the most unique and strange. But they’re still — I’ll listen to them sometimes, they’re not just collector pieces … That’s kind of fun, right. Came from the thrift store, back to the thrift store. I really like that cycle, just like, let it go back into circulation.”
Via Zoom, he took me on a tour of some of those tapes that survived the test of time. We cross-referenced these online, sometimes rescuing tidbits about each of them, sometimes coming up blank.
When it comes to found, home-recorded tapes, it doesn’t get much better than Franklin’s Demo — a study in teenage vulnerability. Side A is a mix of songs from the Christian nu-metal group P.O.D.’s 1996 album, Brown, including a track that Franklin charmingly misspells as “Raggae Jam.”
But Side B is the real treat: a “demo” by a pubescent teenager. As Williamson describes it: “‘I’m fifteen and I have an electric guitar and I’m writing unself-conscious silly songs but also staking a stab at writing love songs, even though I don’t really know, probably, what it means.’ It’s just a perfect teen bedroom demo, just one guy and his guitar just whining. It’s really good.”
Track titles include “Feeling Gray Today (the Ellen Gray Song),” “Mrs. Malone Blues,” and, best of all, “You Can Cry Tonight.” There’s also a punk version of the alphabet song and a track called “Sometimes” which Williamson describes as a song “about being sad.”
Williamson played a track off Franklin’s Demo on Marty McSorley’s show on WFMU, and “Sometimes” made it onto a mixtape he produced for Lateral Addition. It features nasally voice and a strummed guitar, and is amazing. Its lyrics alone are to die for:
Sometimes I feel like a dog with no feet Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah Sometimes I like to cry for life, For all that’s died and all that might. And I can try to see the light that holds your face He loves you more than anything that you dream He wants you heal your broken heart Now you listen very closely, you’ll hear his voice You’ll hear his voice Crying sweetly and I’ll love you forever and ever For ever and ever
If you look at the liner notes above, you’ll see that it seems like Franklin sent this tape to someone named Eric. You can feel Franklin’s awkwardness as he tells Eric about the best P.O.D. songs, shyly neglecting to directly reference his own demo on the B-side. He signs off with a feigned cool: “Hope you like it, dude. Later.”
Yet, there it ended up, at a thrift store — callously discarded like a dusty copy of Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits.
Ryan Winter Age 8 1/2
This is another home recording, though Ryan Winter is younger and therefore not yet at his angst phase. The penmanship here (and the reference to “Ryan Winter age 8 1/2 3rd grade”) suggests that the track listing was assembled by Ryan’s parents. The bulk of this tape occupied with a stand-up comedy routine, including precocious jabs at Bill Clinton and Ross Perot that evolve into a cynical skewering of money’s influence on American politics.
But the real treasure here is a singular track called “If I Could Give A Gift To The World,” a Ryan Winter original that is the tonal opposite of his sardonic stand-up. Piano notes and Ryan’s prepubescent voice combine for a charming ditty about rescuing society from hatred and vice:
If I could give a gift to the world I would give it peace If I could give a gift to the world All bad things would cease
There be be no guns Or weapons that would kill Everyone one you know Would be filled with goodwill Drugs and drinks and cigarettes would all be put to rest Happy healthy people is what I think it is best Violence would be a thing that happened in the past Love and caring would be things that would always last
If I could give a gift to the world All bad things would cease If I could give a gift to the world I would give it peace
Susan Alexjander – Sequencia
Living in Santa Cruz, mecca of crystals and silent retreats, Williamsons’ jaunts to the thrift store have netted him countless new age cassettes. This is a rare cassette edition of sound artist Susan Alexjander’s new age concept album. To produce this work, Alexjander measured the wavelengths of infrared light absorbed by molecules of light. The ratios between the wavelengths were then converted to ratios of sound frequencies, which were subsequently transcribed into musical notation. The score was then performed by an ensemble, incorporating synthesizers, violin, vocals, tabla, and more.
This tape came out on a label called Science & the Arts in 1994. Strangely, the only two other catalogued releases on that label are two other cassettes, both from the early eighties, which also feature music based on DNA: Riley McLaughlin’s DNA Music (Molecular Meditation), and Dr. David Dreamer & Riley McLaughlin’s DNA Suite.
Various Artists – Music From Purchase ’93
Rescued from a thrift store in New York, this appears to be a compilation of student music from SUNY Purchase, complete with sweet early computer graphics imagery. Like many college and high school student samplers, it is part time capsule, part treasure trove. Spanning a number of genres, and concluding with an ill-advised group rap by the Purchase Rhyme Crew, it features a funhouse of obscure names. For one, there’s “Dinosaur Brain” by the impeccably named Tyrannosaurus Rectum, apparently a power trio that was twice voted Best College Band in the Nation (according to former band member David Hollander’s online profile.) What Hollander fails to mention is that “Dinosaur Brain” is a weirdo funk-metal classic, preserved on YouTube for the benefit of the 23 people who have viewed the video:
Then there is a band called Eric’s in Oregon, who supply the song “Waiting For the #12.” Clearly inspired by contemporary rock bands like the Gin Blossoms albeit lighter in polish, it bears the ironic subtitle and lyrical refrain, “Maybe We’ll Be Famous.”
And finally there is “Foolish Shadows” by Mirror, a magnificent prog-cum-hair metal ballad replete with soaring falsetto vocals. The song was subsequently included on the band’s 1995 album, Reflections, which has the best artwork in the history of recorded music:
Ancient Future – Visions of a Peaceful World
Another new age cassette rescued from the California thrift store complex, this is the debut from Ancient Future, a group of Americans who combined various culture’s musical instrumentals and traditions, popularizing the ‘world music fusion’ genre. As you can see, Williamson’s copy is a self-released edition of this album with a generic tape label and single-colour printing. The variety of instruments listed in the credits (zither, sarod, tabla, esraj, etc.) and the track titles (“Moonbath,” “Eternal Embrace,” and, best of the, lot: “Zzaj”) tell you exactly what to expect.
Macrofusion – Demo Sampler 1983
The font on this tape makes it look amazing, though Williamson tells me it’s a little underwhelming. Macrofusion itself was one pseudonym of Peter Spoecker, an ambient and new age composer who produced a number of home-recorded ambient tapes, mainly on his own label, Shining Lotus Music Productions. Tapes of his have sold for nearly $100 on the new-age collectors’ market. Macrofusion was his “computer music” outfit.
Oddly enough, there is only one online reference to this particular tape, which seems to be on the verge of extinction. That reference is a listing in Ohio State University’s Twyla Tharp Archive, “a large collection of materials which document her creative career in dance, film and television.” What relationship does Macrofusion have with Tharp? It’s hard to know, although her collection includes everything from Herb Alpert albums to old answering machine tapes, so perhaps the connection is tenuous.
Williamson’s enthusiasm for ephemeral media is reflected in his long history of radio DJing. While studying at NYU, he got a foothold on their campus radio station, WNYU, then connected with the legendary WFMU — attracted by their byzantine online archives of radio shows past. (Indeed, Williamson’s past shows can be streamed online in their entirety.)
Though he accepts the fact that the iceberg of lost tapes is slowly melting, some of his own art and sound projects betray a passion for audio preservation. In 2011, he exhibited a gallery piece called Summer of Salute that was all about retaining ephemeral media. His project involved writing a computer script that recorded Funkmaster Flex’s weekly set on the seminal New York City rap station, Hot 97.
“Living in New York, you’d be lucky on a Friday night to catch one of his sets, when he’s introducing the hot new rap jam of the summer,” Williamson explains. Flex is famous for these song premieres, which could be a huge boost to new artists. He often introduces these tracks by making liberal use of a sound effect of a bomb exploding. “He would rewind the track, and drop the bomb sound effect, and then rewind the track, then add some total non-sequitur.”
“It would be this fantastic thing that you’d get to hear, but it would be very fleeting because you’d be by a radio.” Williamson’s goal was to record and isolate these sublime moments.
Summer of Salute is a study in micro-archiving: in it, he isolates and stitches together just the moments of Flex deploying the bomb side effect, as culled over a summer’s worth of Flex broadcasts. For an exhibited in London, he dubbed his bomb collage to cassette, then connected a tape player to a small FM transmitter that broadcasted the audio on the frequency, 97.1 FM. A boombox then played the transmission live into the room.
Another Williamson project, which incorporates a few of the tapes discussed in this article, was a mix he put out called This Guy Put 39 Different Songs Onto One CD And It Sounds Amazingly Awesome. It is a response to the reality that people are increasingly consuming music through centralized bottlenecks, for example streaming music services. The mix in question deliberately sources audio from a range of different sources, ephemeral or not. There is music from different eras, sounds sourced from YouTube clips, audio from found tapes, digital downloads, old radio clips, TV clips, music from vinyl, live concert footage. It is a wonderfully post-modern sound collage, capturing the transient nature of audio in a world whose capacity to create still outpaces the ability to archive.
Before he became The Caretaker, Leyland James Kirby recorded music under the name V/Vm for many years. He opened his irreverent V/Vm Test Records label in 1996, and since then has developed a reputation for noisy, prankish releases, often reconstituting bits of pop culture to subversive ends.
As V/Vm, Kirby has engaged in all manner of hijinks, often to the chagrin of electronic music purists. (The denizens of Aphex Twin message boards, in particular, were irritated by a couple of AFX spoofs he released). His concepts are provocative and entertaining. 1999’s Pig was a field recording of pigs feeding, apparently mistaken by some as the sound of them being slaughtered — perhaps because the cover was a butcher’s diagram of pork cuts. Sick-Love was a collection of popular love songs that had been digitally degraded, including the glorious “The Lady In Red (Is Dancing With Meat),” which reduces its source material to Satanic rubble:
Then there was “I Wanna Fuck Miss Nicky Trax” and “Made in Belgium,” two 12″ records designed to emulate the Belgian New Beat sound of the late 80s/early 90s, albeit cross-bred with Kirby’s offensive sense of humour (tracks included “Anal Acid [Butt Plug Edit]” and “Cocaine [Pablo Escobar Mix]” and Kirby urged the pressing plant to print ‘Manufactured in Belgium’ on each copy, but was declined).
“Mouldy Dough ***the Official V/Vm Anthem***” was one in a line of V/Vm’s send-ups of tepid pop culture. The record is ostensibly a re-release of “Mouldy Old Dough” by Lieutenant Pigeon, a novelty song that rose to number one on the UK Single Charts in 1972. That song is bizarre in the way only UK chart hits can be. Frontman Rob Woodward alternates between playing the tin whistle and growling out the song’s title, while his mother, Hilda, plays boogie-woogie piano along with a plodding drumbeat.
It is not hard to divine Kirby’s perspective on “Moldy Old Dough.” The record’s cover lays out his opinions starkly:
“as the old adage goes ‘why try to fix something that isn’t broken'” we’d like to add the following words of wisdom, ‘why not re-release the worst ever UK number one single and make it even worse on the B-Side.’ Last seen offending children, beating up Keith Harris and orville duck whilst drinking enough Q.C. sherry to sink a battleship, PIGEON then spent the entire winter season at Butlins Bognor supporting BuCKs FIZZ and Boy George. After this success the PIGEON then disappeared to a life of crime and KEBABS to support his 27 siblings.”
Most of that is fictional, although Bucks Fizz and ventriloquist Keith Harris’ Orville the Duck character were both responsible for other despised UK novelty hits, as collected on this worst-of-the-worst compilation:
Side A of “Moldy Dough” is simply a re-release of the original “Moldy Old Dough,” whereas the B-side is a cacophonous re-working by V/Vm itself. But what makes this release especially remarkable are its accoutrements. With each copy came two small zip-lock bags, one containing a feather, and the other containing some genuine pigeon poo.
Certainly, this is not the only record that’s been come packaged with excreta. There are several records that incorporate blood in their packaging, for example the Indecent Liberties LP by power electronics act Taint, which was advertised as being spattered with “cat/dog blood.” (In fact, Keith Brewer, who was behind Taint, told me awhile back that it was blood sourced from a butcher.) Pushing things even further, Michael Ridge, who runs the Quagga Curious Sounds label, once pressed a latex record that had pubic hair embedded within it.
But this Pigeon disc could be the lone release that incorporates avian excreta, which is no dubious distinction.
A record such as this is an anomaly, but it is characteristic of Kirby’s ethic at the time. Perhaps this is best characterized as a work in the plunderphonics tradition, irreverently re-contextualizing pop culture run-off. In fact, Kirby’s vastly different, seemingly more serious work in the hauntological domain is guided by a similar set of principles, designed to tickle the memory banks. One of his classics under the guise The Caretaker, Selected Memories From The Haunted Ballroom, repurposed samples of old waltzes by slowing and warping them, then burying them in eerie ambiance. In that case, as in the case of this pigeon feces accompanied disc, the idea is to experiment with collective memory — though the end results are radically different, the process remains the same.