Frogazi Studios – Devil Cartridge (2021)

In 1999, a small chain of restaurants called Yasai Donburi Vegan Ramen began opening stores in the midwest United States. To try to drum up business and compete with other national chains, they began offering a free demo disc of an in development Playstation game called ‘Devil Cartridge.’ Little did they know the game would get cancelled, and eventually lost due to rumors of satanic content. The backlash from this, led the restaurant to file bankruptcy in early 2001 and disappear shortly after.

We at Frogazi Studios have unearthed a copy of this lost and fabled game and have compiled its eccentric soundtrack through vigorous restoration for release later this month.

So reads the back story for Devil Cartridge: Demo Disc, a 6-song EP that purports to be a soundtrack from a Japanese videogame that ended up stuck in development hell.

What is this strange release, and is there any truth to the tale?

As it turns out, Devil Cartridge is the work of two producers. One of them is 30-year-old Ryan Naglak, a musician and optometrist living in Philadelphia. He creates music under the name My Sister’s Fugazi Shirt; as implied by that moniker, he grew up listening to indie rock, recording “lo-fi bedroom music” and playing in various bands in high school: a noise-rock band at one point, a ska band “for a long time, which was fun,” he laughs as we chat via Zoom.

Naglak also has a keen interest in video game soundtracks, something he became more focused on during the pandemic, when he found himself with a lot more time to game. It was the recent remake of Final Fantasy 7 that motivated him to merge his passions for gaming and music production. “It just hit this nostalgia note in me. That was what kickstarted me — okay, I want to try and make some videogame-inspired music.”

He had toyed with electronics before this, but this was his first entirely electronic project. He found himself coming home from work and producing music for hours on end, operating at a song-per-day tack. This resulted in Nautilus, a full game-inspired album that took inspiration from Final Fantasy 13, a divisive game in the FF series. “I really, really love that one, I love the music in it, and the scenery and the setting,” he tells me, recognizing it is a controversial pick amongst gamers.

Nautilus, like many of Naglak’s recent releases, can be considered vaporwave-adjacent. “I was aware of vaporwave, I knew some of the classic albums. But I wasn’t heavily into the scene or the genre. I was more into videogame music: Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts. And I was into experimental music and electronic stuff; I’ve always been a fan of Aphex Twin and Xiu Xiu and stuff like that. And so that kind of bridged the gap moving into the vaporwave scene, which was a very open scene to newcomers. They’re always ready and willing to check out somebody, even if they’ve never heard of them.”

Nautilus was a hit on the vaporwave scene that uses Bandcamp as a main outlet, successful enough to warrant a cassette release, a vinyl edition on multi-coloured “splatter” vinyl, and even a limited edition LP that is filled with liquid and glitter. There have also been two sequels.

Months after Nautilus, he put out God’s In His Heaven, All’s Right With The World, a tribute to the video game Neon Genesis Evangelion; it, too, attracted many fans and warranted cassette and vinyl versions. “Bandcamp is where I really seem to do well in terms of tape releases. I sold out of 50 tapes in about two hours, and then the vinyl sold out in about an hour and a half — a hundred copies. I was nervous to release the vinyl, because I didn’t know if anyone’s going to buy it. But I should have pressed more. I’ll be repressing it in the spring as well, for more copies.”

The other individual behind Devil Cartridge is Britt Guynes, who produces music under the name Frogmore. Guynes is 20, lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and recalls becoming interested in music through a local classic rock station. He discovered vaporwave at age fourteen, after encountering the music video for Yung Lean’s “Hurt,” which copped the genre’s visual aesthetic.

At 16, Guynes started making music, shortly after a move from Mobile, AL to Tuscaloosa. He discovered Ableton and started experimenting in order to make music that sounded like Aphex Twin. Since a lot of his classmates liked to rap, he started producing trap instrumentals for his friends to rhyme over. “As I got older, I started getting more into vaporwave and electronic music,” he says. “That aesthetic, I couldn’t stop enjoying it.”

After high school, he entered college for graphic design. In 2020, because school went online for the pandemic, he found himself with more free time which he spent playing videogames and making music. He released his first entry into vaporwave, an album titled Midnight Excursion, released under the name Golden Joe. Sick of vaporwave’s often rote formula, he sought to impart a greater degree of craftsmanship to his productions.

“It was kind of a response to how stagnant the classic vapor style had gotten,” he explains. “It just kind of had degraded over time, people were just slowing down some eighties ballad with a little bit of reverb on it, and they call it a day, and then they try to bug some label to do a tape release. Whatever, that’s what you do I guess. I was really sick of how there was just no craftsmanship to it. So I tried to applied the same sort of beat-making ethos as Madlib and J Dilla. I try to chop it up as much as possible, I want to make sure you couldn’t really tell what the sample was originally when you’re hearing it.” That album — produced in around three days total and released digitally at first — ended up getting put out on tape by the Kentucky cassette label Hairs aBlazin’, increasing Guynes’ profile.

Guynes messaged Naglak after enjoying the My Sister’s Fugazi Shirt album In the Capital of Consumerism, billed as “a study on tourism, over-saturation and exposure to advertisements and products.”

“I thought it was amazing, it was so cool,” Guynes says. “So I followed him on Twitter and he followed me back, and I messaged him and asked, ‘Hey, do you want to work on something together?'”

The two found common cause in video games; both are enthusiastic gamers, and as they chat with me they discuss the finer points of the Final Fantasy series. Most of it goes over my head. When it comes to Devil Cartridge, they cite a few proximal influences. Shin Megami Tensei, a multifaceted RPG series popular in Japan, is one important reference. They also talk about the “real-life simulation” of the Persona series of games, particularly Persona 5. In 2020, this game was a necessary simulacrum of “normal” for an era of isolation and stay-at-home orders.

“[Persona 5] was very fitting during quarantine. You could go out and get coffee in it, go out to the movies and stuff like that,” Naglak says. The two also remark on the “full band sound” of that latter game’s soundtrack, jazzier and looser than many other classic RPGs.

These games are noteworthy for the flexibility of the stories and the multiple settings contained within. “There’s a lot you can do with the narratives in those stories,” Naglak says, “There’s the romance subplots, there’s the different locations — your house, the medical shop — there’s tons of stuff you can do with it. We just made it long because those soundtracks are long, too.”

Indeed, Persona 5‘s soundtrack is five hours long, spanning over 100 tracks. “And they’re all amazing,” Guynes enthuses. The game itself last over 100 hours, another experience made possible by the quarantine.

As they worked together, discussing games and bouncing musical ideas back and forth, Devil Cartridge gradually emerged as a concept. The “Demo Disc” version was six tracks long; released first, it served as a taster for the full product, which was a 34-track omnibus designed as the official soundtrack to a fictional game.

The entirety of Devil Cartridge was assembled remotely in 2020 and 2021. They would send each other partial tracks, iteratively fleshing out ideas. Even though they were using different audio production software — Guynes used Ableton while Ryan used Logic — their collaboration felt seamless.

“One of us would send the other one a basic skeleton of a track — a loop or two with maybe a verse and chorus type beat, and then the other person would add on to it, and flesh it out into the full song, and then send it back to the original person who would put the final touches on it,” Naglak explains.

Unlike a lot of vaporwave and vaporwave-adjacent music, Devil Cartridge was not sample-based, apart from a single sample Guynes pulled from the online RPG, Phantasy Star Online. Naglak uses royalty-free loops, digital synths, and drum machines through Logic, and a couple tracks also feature guitar and even vocals courtesy of Guynes. Guynes also uses an open-source synthesizer app called Synth One as well as “sound fonts” from old videogames.

This commitment to craftsmanship is not unique to Devil Cartridge. Guynes tells me about a growing movement within the vaporwave scene that is actively moving away from a sample-driven approach. He is particularly fond of the producer Equip, and in particular that artist’s videogame-inspired record, CURSEBREAKER X, which he considers a seminal album. “Non-sample stuff is kind of on the rise right now,” Guynes says, explaining that some producers will advertise their records as sample-free as something of a “flex.”

Devil Cartridge‘s high concept is one of its most appealing attributes, and the two producers tell me about the origins of the idea. As they bounced ideas and back and forth, they eventually settled on the concept of creating a soundtrack for a fictional video game. Guynes was immediately inspired to create the cover and write up a plot outline for the game. “We had a whole template for what type of tracks we want,” Naglak tells me. “We needed to have the dungeon themes, the boss battles, the save room theme.”

“And also the life simulation stuff, like the romance theme, your house’s theme,” Guynes adds. “We even took in to consideration like, there’s a cutscene, there’s a cinematic song that would play during a cutscene, what that would have to sound like, what it would have to be called in the context of the game.”

The idea for the “Demo Disc” edition — a titillating post-modern morsel, in my opinion — was inspired by reality. “In the early 2000s, Pizza Hut put out demo discs for the Playstation 1,” Guynes says. “They had like Metal Gear Solid, and Spyro, and Tomb Raider.” Naglak tells me he, in fact, owned several of these demos games.

Britt, a vegan himself, thought the idea of a plant-only ramen restaurant in the Midwest was uniquely clever. And the notion that disc was a demo for a game that never came out was inspired by numerous games that fell into development hell. “I’m really interested in the stuff that was in development and got cancelled,” Naglak says. “The conceptual things that could have been, where a studio went under or they cancel it for whatever reason.”

They bring up Mother 3, a game that was in development for an obscure add-on to Nintendo 64 but never came out on that console; instead, the game was cancelled and released three years later for the Gameboy Advance in a completely different form. Yet before it was cancelled, little segments of the game were exhibited in demo format at industry conventions. (It has been estimated that 30% of the game was completed before it was shut down). Now, looking at screenshots of those early demos evokes the sensation of peering into an alternate universe: unlike the Gameboy’s two-dimensional cartoon graphics, the original version was set in a polygonal universe.

“I find it so interesting,” Naglak says. “It even still happens now. There’s games from a couple years ago that we haven’t heard anything about, that they showed off gameplay or trailers for. And it’s such an intriguing thing in such a big industry, that that happens even still.”

Like other games that simulate the “real world,” Devil Cartridge is set in a real city — namely Chicago. This was chosen as the setting after Guynes visited the city, one month before COVID erupted, for an art conference. (His father is the chair of the art department at the University of Alabama.) “I loved Chicago,” Guynes recalls. “I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever been to…. I’d never been to a metropolis city like that before. I loved the way it felt when you’re there.” The experience of stepping into a “real” record store — including one that carried a record by Equip — was a real eye-opener for him.

In Guynes’ plot outline, the story starts when the main character moves to the big city for college. This plot devise is inspired by Japanese games. “Most Persona games, you’re parents are like hey get out of here, go to Kyoto and leave us alone,” he explains.

Artwork is a big component of the Devil Cassette mythos. Naglak tells me that packaging “half the battle” on the vaporwave scene, and fortunately, Guynes, who is studying graphic design, has made it a major priority. As they were working on the record, he drew up sketches of the cover. The final product includes illustrated versions of the two producers, plus two other characters he derived from stock photos.

Using Adobe Illustrator for the typography and Photoshop for illustration, he assembled the distinctive artwork. The demo version even features an image of a dinged-up price sticker.

The Devil Cartridge: Demo Disc edition was originally released online and was also issued as a CD (which sold out quickly). When the full, 34-track record was released, it was supplemented by a special, 50-copy double-cassette edition, which also disappeared as quickly as it came. (They had to limit sales to two copies per customer to avoid hoarders gunning for the secondary market).

Naglak and Guynes tell me that this collaboration has been so fruitful that they are already looking forward to their next collaboration. “We have some ideas for a second release that is very early stage right now,” Naglak says. “We have a couple ideas and some tracks we are throwing around. But I think we want to get this out before diving into the next thing.”

“As opposed to having a really long album where we’re doing tracks really fast, we want to have a really tight, concise experience where the tracks have a lot of workshopping done,” Guynes says. “It’s a lot more experimental this time, with more of a drum and bass influence as well.”

“We kind of wanted to go inward on the next thing as opposed to outward,” Naglak adds. “And make it very focused. And more complicated I’d say.”


Thanks to Ryan Naglak and Britt Guynes for the interview. Devil Cartridge OST can be streamed and purchased here.

“Low Effort Music”: Archiseztsfew-koū Thirty Records (2019-2020)

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.”

كوم الحصن ‎– Miso Paste Type Beat

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.

Pigeon – Mouldy Dough **the Official V/Vm Anthem** 7″ (V/Vm Test Records, 1997)

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).

Source: Discogs

“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:

Source: Discogs

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.

Stalin vs. Splinter – Pasta Electronics II CD-R (Turgid Animal, 2007)

Pasta Electronics II unopened. (Image courtesy of Discogs)

How does a music collector contend with a release that literally putrefies over time?

This peculiar item is an obscure noise release from a record label called Turgid Animal, run by George Proctor and Nicola Vinciguerra, two producers that work collaboratively out of their separate homes in Britain and Italy. Proctor’s own noise act was named Mutant Ape, while Vinciguerra records prolifically under the name Fecalove.

Stalin vs Splinter was the work of Vinciguerra and his pal, Marco Pampaloni. The release in question, Pasta Electronics II, was in fact a sequel, although the first volume is less noteworthy.

Pasta Electronics II was a CD-R which could be ordered directly through the Turgid Animal website. Those who bought one of the 30 copies received a parcel in the mail containing a damp pasta box that was taped shut. What those ill-fated consumers learned was that the box has been filled with cooked pasta mixed with pesto and various other ingredients. The actual CD-R was buried deep inside the mixture; over the time it spent in postal transit, it had ripened impressively. The audio itself, which is now available on Bandcamp, was a hodgepodge of digital noise combined with chopped-up recordings of an Italian prime ministerial debate and Japanese television commercials.

This is an impressively revolting package. Though it left Vinciguerra’s home in edible condition, it’s a release that is fated to decay. Record collectors often take for granted that their releases can sit on a shelf and appreciate in value. Vinyl warp and CD rot are long-term threats to the stability of a prized possession, but those processes occur in the timescale of decades. What to make of a release whose packaging grows more offensive with each passing day? To better understand the motives behind the release, I reached out to Vinciguerra, who patiently fielded my questions by email.

any general background about the release? how did the idea come about?

I think that around the time we made the first Pasta Electronics (a couple of years before volume 2) I was crazy about the extremely elaborate special packaging of legendary Japanese label G.R.O.S.S. and unique, disgusting and bizarre relics from Lateral Agriculture Order. Knowledge of mail-art had some influence too I guess but my focus was, and still is, the worship of industrial/noise music. I also simply always liked to make a mess. Pasta Electronics II was the natural evolution of that earlier effort. More disgusting, more rotten. Me and my bandmate Marco recorded the sounds, I took care of the packaging.

Pasta Electronics II opened, with CDR procured from inside. The CDR was contained within a wrapping of tinfoil for protection. (Image courtesy of Discogs)

where were you coming from? some people have a sort of theoretical meaning behind their art. was there a hoity-toity conceptual meaning behind the package?

It was the epitome, the apotheosis of Italy. Rotten food thrown in a box of highly recognisable Barilla pasta, with a noise CDr wrapped in alluminum foil. Pure tradition. I guess we don’t think very highly of our country. I liked the idea that you had to break the box and actually touch rotten shit if you wanted to actually get to the music.

was it pasta mixed with a cheese sauce, or just the pasta?

I remember it was fairly good commercial pesto sauce with the addition of some grated Parmigiano cheese and whatever else I had in the fridge. Ham, bacon, bresaola, pepper come to mind. Each box was different.

how long did you let it rot before you sold it? where did you keep it (outside, inside, etc?) if it took time for them to sell out, did they decay even more as they waited to be sold? (did you have to throw any out?)

I made the copies only to order, so the stuff didn’t actually rot in my house. It rot in postal offices, vans, planes etc. On the way to my customers. Nasty, eh?

did you get any feedback from customers?

Not really, but the face Klaus from Genocide Organ made when I handed him a copy was priceless. He shook the box for a while, not sure what to make of it. I remember a french friend writing me something along the lines of “it’s a good stink, the stink of Turgid Animal”, but I’m not sure it was regarding this release in particular.

how much did it sell for?

10 Euro? Maybe less, I don’t remember.

what did the music itself sound like?

We manipulated sounds directly from Italian tv (a Berlusconi/Prodi pre-election face to face and material from a football corruption scandal) and some Japanese commercials for pasta toppings. It’s two long, repetitive and not super noisy tracks as far as I remember. A retarded version of Vagina Dentata Organ, maybe.

if you can, describe the odor.

To me it smelled like amid and pesto. I never got to experience any nasty stench because I shipped the boxes pretty quickly after I made them.


Thanks to Nicola Vinciguerra for the interview.

Knurl – Initial Shock CS (self-released, 1994)

“I was so fascinated with the sounds of screeching and grinding metal.”

Knurl is the noise project of a welder from Toronto named Alan Bloor. Since his first tape in 1994, he has established a reputation for his unique sonic aesthetic. Involved in the punk scene growing up, he developed a taste for loud and dissonant music. Years later, he drew inspiration from the sounds of his welding. “I was influenced by the sound of the saws and grinders in the shop I was working in and thought it would be great if you could get a band to sound as fast and furious as that,” he explained in a previous interview.

Image provided by Alan Bloor.

This reflection inspired Bloor to harness the sounds of metal scraps, which have served as the foundation of his many Knurl releases. Juxtaposed against today’s noise producers, many of whom create their music entirely using computers, Bloor’s methodology seems almost primitive. The majority of his music uses the unmodified sounds of metal attached to guitar pick-ups with no post-production editing. His custom instruments are like metallic mutants; he welds sawblades, threaded rods, and irregular steel shards together to create bizarre noise objects.

Bloor’s first official release dates back to 1994, when he self-released the Initial Shock cassette. It was based on some experiments he had been capturing on tape for his own listening pleasure. “In the early 1990s, I was so fascinated with the sounds of screeching and grinding metal that I would create cassette tapes that I would listen to on a Sony Walkman tape player. The sound pieces would be created from metal being scraped and mashed into the pickups of a bass guitar I had, as well as contact mics being placed on electric fans and car springs. At the time, I was using head phone speakers as contact mics, and running the signal through Boss distortion, and DOD equalizer pedals, and recording it straight onto cassettes.”

Bloor tells me the audio for Initial Shock was originally intended as a soundtrack for a dance performance. “One day my wife and I were going to see an experimental dance company and there was going to be a Q&A after, and she suggested that I take a couple of my cassettes to see if they would be interested in using any of the sounds as a score for future dance pieces.

“The Q&A didn’t materialize and afterwards I stopped in at a local record shop that I frequented and told my friend there about these cassettes I was making. He listened to one, liked it, and told me that I should send out copies to some record labels to see if they would be interested releasing any. 

“I didn’t know of any labels, so he gave me some addresses. This prompted me to create a project name, and a release. I came up with the name Knurl, which comes from the diamond grip pattern on handles and knobs.”

A knurled pattern. (Source: Wikipedia)

Initial Shock was cobbled together from the tapes Bloor had been privately recording for his own listening. “I dubbed off the cassettes in real-time, hand made the labels from card stock and lettering stencils, and once the release was produced, I sent it out to a few of the labels that my friend at the record store told me about. One label wrote back and told me to contact Joe Roemer at Mother Savage Noise. I sent him one and he really liked it. He asked for a few copies and he sent them out all over the world.  I couldn’t believe it when I received a letter from Taiwan asking me to be part of a compilation.”

The total circulation of Initial Shock was very limited. “I only made about 20 Initial Shock releases. They’re not the best recordings, but to me that was the beauty of it. I loved the rawness and the stripped down approach to this recording, and many other Knurl releases.”


Thanks to Alan Bloor for the interview. Visit his Bandcamp here.

Unsolved Mysteries: Conglomerate Records

“Without getting too philosophical about it, its almost as if I was meant to discover this collection.”

In early 2014, a Pittsburgh musician named Ben Opie wandered into one of the most intriguing experimental music mysteries in memory.

He was shopping at a local record store, Jerry’s Records, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Browsing the experimental music racks, Opie discovered an unfamiliar record with a hand-assembled cover:

Intrigued, he looked inside, only to discover that it was a record made up of pieces of several other records, all carefully glued together. He would later try playing it on his turntable, and learned that it played well.

According to the insert booklet, the LP is a mutant combination of eight different LPs, ranging from a New Order Blue Monday 12″ to a Dave Brubeck record to a couple Mendelssohn symphonies.

The record was titled T OA RIT ECC G, short for “The Only Actual Record In The Entire Conglomerate CataloG,” and was credited, intriguingly, to Kurt Vile and Rose Selavy. The label was listed as Conglomerate Records.

“What became especially intriguing was that the return address on it was for Connellsville, PA,” Opie tells me via email. “Connellsville is a small town in western PA, about an hour or so south of Pittsburgh. It’s really backroads, and not far from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. This made little sense, and I went onto a local bulletin board to ask if anyone knew about Conglomerate Records, or the record’s credited creators, Kurt Vile and Rose Selavy.”

After posting on the board, he got a message from an employee at Jerry’s Records. “He said there was a collection of cassette tapes that went with that record. I arranged to buy it all. It came as part of a mass purchase Jerry’s made of a major local collector. He had died and his widow sold off his record collection.”

As Opie puts it, “The Conglomerate collection is an insane collection of recordings and objects.” He has painstakingly cataloged most of them on Discogs, complete with explanatory annotations, with the exception of several anti-cassettes and two anti-LPs, which don’t meet the website’s standards.

“The packaging, as you’ve probably noticed, ranges from basic 80s-period xerox covers, to elaborate hand-created original creations. the music ranges from primitive musique concréte/Plunderphonics, ambient music, industrial noise, and more conceptual releases. I was told some tapes didn’t survive, such as one tape wrapped entirely in rubber bands.”

This DIY visual aesthetic, which is often quite striking, is intermingled with tongue-in-cheek references to experimental art and music:

Cover of Klangfarbenbilder cassette by Kurt Schwitters Revisited. Schwitters was a German artist who is best known for the Merzbau, for which he converted six rooms of a house into a jagged sculptural piece. This was the basis for Japanese noise artist Merzbow’s name.

Opie sorted out that many of the names involved were references to other things. For example, “Rose Selavy” is a play on Rrose Sélavy, a female alter-ego maintained by Marcel Duchamp. And “Kurt Vile” is not the contemporary singer/songwriter, but instead a reference to the German composer Kurt Weill. Few of the releases have dates on them, but those that do span from 1986 to 1990.

Opie was desperate to figure out who was responsible for this artifact, posting on local message boards in search of information. Other people, intrigued, fanned out in an attempt to find anyone who know anything about the label. But even discussions with Pennsylvanians who were on the scene at the time, and RRRecords’ Ron Lessard, who is more or less a historian of the underground experimental music scene, were fruitless. Nobody knew anything. Nobody had even heard of Conglomerate Records.

There are few definitive pieces of information about the releases themselves. None of the artists on the releases were listed as having releases elsewhere. Bands like Oviparous Pig, Phthisis, and The Donut Holes, were Conglomerate-exclusive. One tape, String Quartet Hoedown by The Conglomerate String Quartet, includes some possible clues in its liner notes. These notes include an essay which profiles each of Quartet’s members, including Kurt Vile (“he takes great pains to conceal his true name”) and other names like Stephen Thomas, William Alva, and Dieter Mueller:

However, none of those names lead to any plausible clues on Google. It is likely that the entirety of this essay, attributed to Rose Selavy, was fabricated. In fact, all people and bands associated with Conglomerate Records appear to be Conglomerate-exclusive.

Opie suspects that there was a ring-leader behind Conglomerate, but that more than one person was involved. “One of the Conglomerate ‘house bands,’ The Donut Holes, has a picture of two people on the cover. One of those two people is also seen clearly in a group photo on the Albert Ayler Memorial Washboard Band tape. The guy with the big glasses. I have to wonder if that is Kurt Vile.”

Take a look at the bespectacled man on each of these covers:

The other clues are the references to various places in Pennsylvania. The tapes with the earliest catalog numbers provide an address for a PO box in Lemont Furnace, PA, along with a zip code for that area (15456):

Lemont Furnace is a small unincorporated community near the southwest corner of Pennsylvania with a current population of just over 800 people. As a Herald-Standard article describes, it is a small town that was founded to house coal miners, an industry that has since dried up. The name “Furnace” refers to the large kilns that were used to bake coal. One tape is recorded as being live from the Pizza Hut in Lemont Furnace, but who knows if one existed in the late eighties?

Later releases list an address in Connellsville PA, which is a small city about 20 minutes away from Lemont Furnace, most recent population over 7000.

Other tapes mention a performance that occurred live in Black Lick, PA — another southwestern PA town, with a population of 1,462. There is also a mention of “the Bettendorf, Iowa group Quadriplegia.” It is tempting to imagine a late-80s noise scene emerging from the small towns in the corner of Pennsylvania, playing house shows and Pizza Huts.

Several of the Conglomerate tapes seem to parody various noise and experimental tropes of the age. The cover of a tape called Pain Party At Presque Isle features a graphic pornography close-up. There is also a tape with a sandpaper cover, and another with a Xeroxed cover depicting human innards:

The Conglomerate Records web of mystery also includes a number of dubious “compilations,” each with its own assembly of colourful band names that don’t appear anywhere else. Pain Party at Presque Isle compilation advertises itself as such:

Its track listing is filled with unfamiliar names; only Helicopter and Twilight Sleep appear elsewhere, on their very on Conglomerate tapes. None of the bands are listed on any other record labels on Discogs. The idea that Kurt Vile created this web of (presumably) fictional noise acts is something to marvel at:

Meanwhile, another compilation, Fast and Slow Pain is billed as a “thrash & grind” comp. It is described by Opie as such:

“Spurious compilation on Conglomerate. Band names listed on cover are Ash Wednesday, Boanerges & the Pewkickers, Burn Unit, Consumption, Litigation, and Spree Killer. Content is actually tape loops and various audio mixing of thrash metal recordings.”

It, too, features more fictional band names, and also references a few (real) extreme metal compilations. Perhaps the best part is the toll free number:

This compilation is one of the most clear indications that Conglomerate is purely satire. The idea that there are bands listed, but that their songs are all loops of established thrash recordings, is clear evidence that elements of these releases were pure fabrications.

Pointless Endeavors

Conglomerate even had its own sub-label, an imprint called Pointless Endeavors that focused on especially conceptual releases. These are a few of them.

PE 1: Revlover

Opie: “The Beatles’ Revolver album played backwards. When it was more difficult to do such things.” For me, the greatest realization is that “Revolver” spelled backwards is “Revlover.”

PE 6: Mel Odious ‎- The Original Soundtrack From WANK’s Award-Winning Mood And Melodies Radio Special Hosted By Mel Odious

Opie: “It’s literally Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits, with a mustache drawn on her. I think this is a nod to Duchamp drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”

PE 7: Kurt Vile – Beatlephobia! A Statistical Smear

According to the amusing liner notes above, this tape contains Sergeant Pepper overdubbed onto itself over and over, such it produced 17 million overdubs in total.

PE 8: Kurt Vile – Throbbing Gristle Bring You 20 Jazz Funk Greats Erased By Kurt Vile

A copy of Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats that’s been “half-erased” — likely subjected to a strong magnet.

The Anti-Records

A number of the Conglomerate releases haven’t been documented by Opie on Discogs because they are anti-releases, and thus unplayable. This is a nearly exhaustive showcase:

Conglomerate Multiformat A

Opie: “It’s an LP with (parts of) a CD, buzzer, cassette, radio cart, flexidisc, and 78 attached to it.”

CGL OX5: White Noise for Kasimir Malevich

The contents of this tape are all spraypainted white, including the actual magnetic tape inside — which leads to an appealing visual effect. Opie says it cannot be opened.

Fornax / Sculptor

A cassette adorned with a collage, with the magnetic tape pulled out and wrapped around it.

MMMMNNN – One Second

Opie: “A cassette box filled with shards of cassette case, and 1 7/8” of tape.” That amount of tape would play for one second if properly spooled.

CGL OX6: Onomatopeia

The text states:

soft, relaxing music
performed by the Methaqualone Con??uort
under the direction of Claes Oldenburg

CAUTION: This cassette may not be compatible
with all stereo systems or sensibilities

The cassette has been melted to the point of being unplayable. The tape’s label references Claes Oldenburg, is a sculptor known for his public art, and methaqualone, a now outdated sedative, better known as Quaaludes. The exact last word of the second line is difficult to make out.

CGL 00: Rat Prick Anthems

If you’re like me, you’ll want nothing more than to hear a Rat Prick Anthem. But don’t get too excited — this tape has been taken apart and thrown into the tape case without its cassette, along with assorted scraps of paper.

CGL 0XXXI: Telemusik 2: For People on Hold

Opie calls this an “assemblage of cassette tape loop and some sort of electronic device that’s fallen apart over time.” It appears to be a piezoelectric transducer, perhaps a contact mic or speaker.

CGL zero: Surrogate Poultice Butter – Counterfeit Enema Lunch

This is a tape with various items glued to its case, including a guitar turning key, some cassette innards, and several pieces of metal. A dadaist band name and title cap it off — if those are indeed the band and album name.

CGL 3TF: Rosi & The Dirigibles Present Three Transposed Functions

Opie guides me through this bizarre release. As seen in the top left image, the outer sleeve of the record is a camouflage pattern, which is the polyurethane bag used in the package of Throbbing Gristle’s 1980 single, “Subhuman” b/w “Something Came Over Me.” Inside that is a record sleeve constructed of chopped-up flexi discs that have braille on them; these are 8 RPM records that were intended for visually impaired people, with readings of then-current periodicals. The record itself is a Xerox of a 7″ single. It is housed inside an unusually shaped inner sleeve repurposed from an actual LP sleeve. This sleeve includes some information plus a list of recommended songs, including artists as diverse as Skip James and AC/DC — these songs comprise the track listing for the playable tape contained within Rose Sélavy’s 100 Grooviest Corporate Hits box (see below).

Erotic Misery

An empty cassette shell. No other information was provided with this tape.

Recycler

As per Opie, the tape’s j-card is a Buffalo Springfield cover (but upside down), and it’s been overlaid with a transparency of Yes’ Yesterdays compliation. The empty cassette shell comes from an unidentified RRRecords release, and is an obvious homage to the label’s Recycled series — one of Conglomerate’s many satirical nods to the noise scene.

CGL PE9: In a Silent Way: Anti-Frantic Music from Conglomerate Records

This tape promises performances of John Cage’s “4’33″” and Lennon and Ono’s “3 Minutes of Silence.” But the cassette has no tape in it. That is presaged by the twin warnings “no dolby” and “no sound.” Of note, Kurt Vile’s name is playfully spelled “Kurt Vial,” and an ensemble called “The Spitvalve Brass Quintet” is billed on the front.

Unidentified Empty Cassette Case

Another cassette shell with no tape in it. The bits of text (“American”) and what looks like the end of a zip code or phone-number are tempting hints — though it is unrelated to American Tapes, which did not exist at this point.

Unidentified Metal Tape

This tape is playable, but features a rusted metal cover and tape label.

CGL 0X13TH20: Rose Sélavy – Rose Sélavy’s 100 Grooviest Corporate Hits

The pièce de résistance, this is an eight-cassette case filled with wonders. The catalog number suggests that these eight tapes are assigned numbers 13 to 20 within the CGL 0X series, which is the Conglomerate series focused on anti-tapes. The highlights here include:

  1. A tape cassette filled with dry macaroni.
  2. A massacred tape instructing you to “Please Rewind.”
  3. A couple deconstructed cassettes.
  4. A cassette shell filled with circuit board components, and attached via wires to a syringe.
  5. One playable tape, which collects the songs listed on the LP insert to Rosi & The Dirigibles Present Three Transposed Functions, above. (Why? We’ll never know…)

Latest Developments

Opie tells me that, since he initially put out a call for information about Conglomerate, he’s had recovered another artifact that sheds more light on the label’s story.

“The last development was that the person who sold me the tapes told me there was something additional he didn’t give me,” he tells me. “There were three snapshot albums filled with duplicate, original, and even unrealized covers for the cassettes. This has led me to be certain, though without confirmation, that the person whose record collection this was, was most likely ‘Kurt Vile.’ I have never confirmed this with his widow. His nephew is a former student of mine, but he knew little of his uncle’s younger life. I’m not yet ready to share that name.”

As seen above, the booklets include copies of the Donut Holes cassette, among others. He notes that these booklets also contain covers for some non-CGL releases, including tapes by John Zorn and Milton Babbit, and John Oswald’s Plunderphonics, suggesting that the person behind Kurt Vile was likely active on the tape trading scene.

And yet there are no records of any Conglomerate releases online, nor does anyone remember any of it. This makes it doubtful that Kurt Vile actually traded copies of his Conglomerate releases. Adding to this, many of the label’s tapes are obvious one-copy editions, even if some of them state on their covers that they are larger editions:

In the end, I ask Opie for his “best guess” as to why these editions exist. “It was done for the creator’s (or creators’) personal enjoyment to be sure,” he explains. “But there’s so much work put into these things, there must be more to the story than that. I believe more than one person was involved, but have absolutely no leads as to who those people could be.

“Without getting too philosophical about it, its almost as if I was meant to discover this collection. Of course I don’t mean that literally, but it’s fortunate that it wound up in my hands where it’s appreciated. I wonder what tapes are completely lost to time, and I find that unfortunate.

“Nobody I’ve discussed this with, or shown the collection to, has any real theories as to the origins of these tapes.”

My theory? It is clear that this collection was a laborious and resource-intensive undertaking. Is it possible this satirical collection was produced as an exhibition for a gallery? If so, was it ever exhibited? Was there possibly an an arts grant? Was this collection mentioned somewhere at the time, for example in a zine like Sound Choice or Option?

For now, Opie tells me he has no immediate plans for the collection. He has dubbed every playable tape into digital versions, and plans to invest some time into separating them into tracks and making them more available. Perhaps one day someone will come across them and they will tweak a memory.

Do you know anything about Conglomerate Records? If so, email me or leave a comment!

Ben Opie plays saxophones and various electronics in a variety of projects, including Thoth Trio (intense acoustic jazz), Bombici (electro-acoustic Balkan dance music), and Throckmorton Plot (improvised deep grooves and electronics). He also books the Live! at Kingfly creative music series at Kingfly Spirits, and teaches music technology at Carnegie Mellon University.

Fukte – The Threatening Aspects of Technology hard drive (Toxic Industries, 2016)

(Source: Discogs)

Fukte* is the name of the noise project operated by Fabrizio De Bon, who lives in northeast Italy and has run his Toxic Industries label since 2009. He arrived at noise music through black metal, in particular through the various side projects of Mz.412 and its most famous member, Henrik Nordvargr Björkk. His first noise record was by Björkk solo project Hydra Head 9, which he bought on on a whim because he was intrigued by the cover. And while his initial impression was that he had wasted his money, he forced himself to listen a few times and eventually saw the light. He started recording noise experiments in 2004, at first using a “very cheap microphone” and an old copy of Fruity Loops. He eventually built his own contact mic and invested in distortion pedals and a proper mixer, preferring the analog sound for his noise.

He didn’t release any of his noise until 2009, when he put out his first release, a split-cassette with his pal, Escaton, that had motherboards glued to the front of the cassette cases, grinded to shape by De Bon himself. Over the decade he’s spent releasing music on his label, De Bon has earned a name for the distinctive packaging of his releases. He often utilizes broken computer parts in his packages, which he primarily sources from his work in I.T. In the past, his concepts have included repurposed circuit boards and releasing a three-inch CDR inside malfunctioning hard drive cases. Most of his elaborate packages have been issued on a sub-label called Very Toxic. Another sub-label, Irritant, is dedicated to Harsh Noise Wall music only, and limits all releases to 33 copies.

His 2016 release, The Threatening Aspects Of Technology, wasn’t just a packaging novelty. It was an album whose format was hard drives, namely old internal drives recycled from work.

(Source: Discogs)

In an interview over Skype, he told me the story of the audio itself, explaining that it was recorded during a rehearsal session. Trying to create a Harsh Noise Wall, he carefully tuned his gear to get the noise he wanted to hear. “I said OK, let’s try to set up the gear in a way I like,” De Bon explained. “After a couple hours of adjusting the noise, I found the sound that I was interested in. I said okay, let’s leave it to evolve for a couple minutes.

“After twenty minutes, I came back, then thought I’d stretch the experiment, change it a little bit, a slight movement of the knobs, or the position of the microphone. Then I thought why not go even farther than this. I decided to leave all night, then went to work. All this time, the sound was evolving itself.”

After two and a half days, he figured it was time to stop the recording, though it took two and a half hours for his computer to save the file. He has never listened to the whole thing, only having listened to a few parts to “follow the flow a little bit.”

(Source: Discogs)

He copied the files to the outdated hard drives, producing ten copies of this inaccessible release on its inaccessible format, which requires that the owner purchase the necessary cables to connect the hard drive to their computer. About half the copies were sold, and half were traded with other noise artists and labels. And while he figures that most people obtained their copies to “collect it as a weird piece of noise music,” he does know of one friend who endeavored to listen to the whole thing. That friend consulted with De Bon about what equipment he needed to hook it into his laptop, then bought it all on Amazon. He listened to the whole thing, in hours-long chunks, over the course of a few weeks.

De Bon was impressed by this, since even he had never listened to the whole thing, only listening to a few snippets to get a general sense of what it sounded like.

*De Bon wants you to know that Fukte is pronounced ˈfukˈtɛ (i.e. fook-teh), not the far more vulgarˈfʌkt (fuckt).