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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
“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:
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-Standardarticle 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.
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.
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.
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).
An empty cassette shell. No other information was provided with this tape.
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:
A tape cassette filled with dry macaroni.
A massacred tape instructing you to “Please Rewind.”
A couple deconstructed cassettes.
A cassette shell filled with circuit board components, and attached via wires to a syringe.
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…)
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* 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.
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.”
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).