Buttress O’Kneel

Buttress-OKneel

Doing this blog, I’m constantly amazed at how many talented musicians and producers out there release their stuff anonymously, with virtually no promotion or online presence beyond a Bandcamp account or Facebook page. Such is the case with Buttress O’Kneel, a mysterious Australian creator of what she calls “plunderphonic intellectronica” and “excruciating postcore compop.” According to the folks at the equally mysterious InterWebMegaLink, who introduced us to Ms. O’Kneel and her sample-heavy sonic experiments, she’s been cranking out this stuff since 1998 or so — but virtually no information on her exists online anywhere. No photos, no bio, no interviews. I’m totally taking InterWebMegaLink’s word for it that she is, in fact, a woman from Australia and not some aging ex-raver dude from, say, Bristol or Pittsburgh or some other hub for this sort of musical cut-and-paste geekery.

O’Kneel — or BOK, for short — has produced everything from “audio documentaries” on the history of fossil fuels and racism in Australia to compilations of damaged CDs skipping. But she seems to especially enjoy chopping, distorting, stretching and otherwise mangling popular music in clever, unexpected ways. Here, for example, is her take on Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” called “Tentacles for Troy,” an anagram of the original song title. (“i get deep into anagrams as titles because it feels like a microcosmic reference to what i’m doing to the music – complete memetic rearrangement, from ostensibly recognisable shiz,” she explained in a recent Facebook post.) Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the Madonna sample in the intro.

Many of BOK’s sonic experiments will be familiar to anyone who’s explored the worlds of mashups and plunderphonics. She’s dabbled in time-stretching, for example, taking familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and slowing them down until they’re transformed into ominous, oceanic exercises in abstract minimalism. But what makes BOK stand out, I think, is that she always takes these more familiar techniques one step further. In the case of time-stretching, she decided to see what would happen if she instead compressed a familiar song down to just a few seconds, then stretched it back to its original length. She calls the results “pop smears” and they’re kind of amazing:

More recently, she’s been experimenting with MP3-to-MIDI converters, which she discovered introduce weird atonal harmonics into the vocal melodies and make most of the rest track’s elements sound like an old-timey player piano having a seizure. (“It’s a godawful mess of misplayed piano garbage,” reads the Bandcamp description. “Either that, or it’s brilliant conceptual sound art! You decide!”) The process makes a familiar pop song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” sound vaguely terrifying, but when applied just to an isolated vocal track from Metallica’s James Hetfield, there’s something kind of hilarious about it. It’s like Bartok on meth.

Speaking of Bartok: Even classical music is not safe from BOK’s undying love of warping the familiar beyond recognition. Here’s part of “The Four Four Seasons,” a relatively simple (by BOK’s convoluted standards) exercise in organized chaos that takes four different versions of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and lays them on top of each other:

I’m tempted to just go on inserting Bandcamp links ad infinitum, because nearly everything Buttress O’Kneel does is interesting on some level. There’s “This Sick Beat,” which combines Taylor Swift with recordings of “pathological” heartbeats (a very plunderphonic-y response to Swift’s trademarking of the phrase “This Sick Beat”). There’s her field recording experiments with another mysterious producer named Panthera Leo, a project called The Fruiting Body that was allegedly recorded back around 2001 but was only just released earlier this year. There are albums on her Bandcamp page (so many albums) with intriguingly apt titles like Post-remix Retrostep, Shitcore and Hard Dadapop. It’s all great, and worth diving deep into if you have a day or two to kill and want to imagine a world in which Venetian Snares got on the mashup train back when that was a trendy thing.

But I’ll leave you with just two pieces of music that I think sum up, as much as it’s possible to sum up, the full spectrum of BOK’s brilliance. The first, “Merzbowie,” is exactly what it sounds like: a mashup of David Bowie and influential Japanese noise artist Merzbow, mixed live and then run through AudioMulch, an “interactive modular” software suite that is apparently one of Buttress’ favorite tools. The results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect and sort of mesmerizing, although it’s probably not coincidence that one my cats puked three times while I was playing it.

Contrast that with “Breaking Windows,” an ambient electronic track that uses nothing but default Windows sounds to build something unexpectedly beautiful. The accompanying video is pretty fun, too.

So who is Buttress O’Kneel? I still have no idea, but I hope more people discover her endlessly inventive music.

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Venetian Snares

venetian-snares-daniel-lanois

We’re big fans of breakcore here at TWBITW. Whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek, piss-take version favored by Anklepants, the booty bass hybrid pioneered by Otto von Schirach or the “baroquecore” classical-meets-glitch mayhem of early Igorrr, breakcore is just inexhaustibly weird. So I’m not sure how we managed to avoid adding genre godfather Venetian Snares to The Weird List, but we’ll fix that right now.

Snares, as he’s known to fans, was born Aaron Funk in Winnipeg, Manitoba — a Canadian city where there’s so little to do (one Venetian Snares album is actually called Winnipeg Is a Frozen Shithole) that young Aaron used to entertain himself by riding his bike around looking for objects to bang on, recording the sounds on a boom box, then playing those sounds back into another boom box to layer them on top of each other. “Then I would do cut-ups or pause-ups of those tapes to create a more startling rhythmic effect,” he told Trebuchet magazine in 2004. “A strange ritual in retrospect.” No kidding.

From those early cut-up experiments, Funk graduated to using OctaMED and Cubase to produce the increasingly intricate, assaultive drum programming for which he’s still best-know. Venetian Snares never met a 4/4 tempo he couldn’t twist into something that sounds like a drum machine having a seizure. Here’s an aptly titled taste of his early work, from 1999.

You can hear some Aphex Twin influences in there, as well as other mid-’90s acts later associated with the breakcore tag like Alec Empire and Nasenbluten. But even at this early stage, Venetian Snares (he came up with the name because his densely cascading snare rolls sounded, as he put it, “like running a pencil down Venetian blinds“) was clearly on some other shit.

From there, Snares’ sound mutated from album to album almost as unpredictably as his drum breaks. He chopped up jazz and pop samples on Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1976-2002 and The Chocolate Wheelchair Album; played chicken with orchestral music on 2005’s mind-blowing Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Hungarian for Born Under a Bad Sign); and collaborated with Austrian producer Rachael Kozak, best-known under her alias Hecate, on an album called Nymphomatriarch made up entirely of sampled sounds of them having sex. (Surprisingly, despite its highly unusual genesis, Nymphomatriarch is actually one of the least bizarre-sounding things in Aaron Funk’s discography. Less surprisingly, Kozak’s role in co-producing the album has often been met with sexist condescension in the media, prompting her to write a lengthy blog post in 2016 defending herself.)

More recently, Funk has undertaken what may be his most unlikely collaboration yet: teaming up fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois, best-known as U2’s co-producer (with Brian Eno) and creator of his own starkly beautiful ambient music, featuring lots of pedal steel guitar. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, which just came out this month, takes that steel guitar and juxtaposes it against Snares’ fractured breakbeats to often startling effect. It’s not the first time glitchy electronic music has been combined with pedal steel — that honor, to the best of my knowledge, goes to Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, who did an album called Stop the Panic with British steel guitarist B.J. Cole in 2000. But where that album went for a jaunty, tropical vibe, Lanois and Snares come up with something way more eerie, experimental and unexpected. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far, weird or otherwise.

But if that’s not odd enough for you, I’ll leave you with the title track from Snares’ 2014 album, My Love Is a Bulldozer. Just when you thought Aaron Funk’s music couldn’t get any more off the rails, he starts singing about his dick.

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Weird of the Day: Lauren Bousfield, “Cracknight”

Lauren Bousfield

Some artists are just too weird for any one genre to contain. After getting pigeonholed in the breakcore and chiptune scenes while working under the name Nero’s Day at Disneyland, Sacramento-based producer Lauren Bousfield dropped that moniker and began making even stranger music under his her own name. As great as Nero’s Day was—and some of it was pretty flippin’ fantastic—Bousfield’s first solo album, Avalon Vales, is even better, because it refuses to stay in one place, skipping across genres like a rock across a pond. It still owes a debt to more experimental breakcore producers like Venetian Snares, but it’s on its own trip. No wonder one of his genre tags on Bandcamp is just “____.”

You can stream the whole towering, beautiful mess that is Avalon Vales on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, for a little taste, check out this video for the aptly named “Cracknight,” and remember, if you ever have Bousfield over for dinner, don’t let him her anywhere near the electrical tape.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

If you heard a loud cheer in the distance on Monday intercut with what sounded like a skipping CD player, you heard the sound of Richard D. James’ fans rejoicing at the news that, for the first time in 13 years, there will be an official new album from Aphex Twin, the production alter ego through which the reclusive, mercurial man from Cornwall released some of the most game-changing electronic music of the ’90s.

True to form, James didn’t make the announcement with a simple press release. Instead, he launched a goddamn blimp with the Aphex Twin logo inside the zero of “2014” over London, then sent fans treasure-hunting into the deep web to uncover the new album’s title and track list. Turns out the new disc will be called Syro; no word yet on a release date. (If you, like us, have no idea how to get to the deep web, some kind soul mirrored the hidden Aphex Twin page here. But you might still need some help deciphering it.)

James has never really done anything conventional over the course of his 20-plus-year career. After first making a name for himself primarily as a producer of ambient music, James helped invent a twitchier, more experimental style of electronica that came to be known as “Intelligent Dance Music” or IDM (a term James himself has disavowed). His many forays into other new sounds and styles also influenced everything from glitch to breakbeat to drill ‘n’ bass. Just in terms of the sheer number of genres he helped shape or invent, he’s arguably the most influential electronic music artist since Kraftwerk.

Towards the end of the ’90s, James’s Aphex Twin releases began to take on a more satirical bent, especially when accompanied by a pair of groundbreaking videos he made with director Chris Cunningham. 1997’s “Come to Daddy” began, by James’s own account, as a death metal piss-take, before evolving into one of the first and most influential glitchcore tracks. Most of you have probably seen it before, but for those of you who haven’t, fair warning: It’s genuinely disturbing.

The creepy Richard James masks are a recurring motif in many Aphex Twin videos, as well as much of his album art (the cover of 1996’s Richard D. James being the most famous). For his second video with Chris Cunningham, 1999’s “Windowlicker,” they took an even more unsettling turn. (Most of you have seen this video, too, but another warning for those who haven’t: the first four minutes feature more N-bombs than Samuel L. Jackson’s entire filmography).

Prior to the announcement of Syro, the last proper Aphex Twin album was 2001’s Drukqs, a double album that alternated between pretty ambient works performed mostly on a computer-controlled piano and glitchier tracks featuring lots of intricate drum programming and melodic synths. He followed that up in 2003 with a remix compilation with the brilliantly cynical title 26 Mixes for Cash, and a 2005 collection of 42 acid house tracks released under the name Analord (he loves aliases; AFX, Polygon Window, GAK and Bradley Strider are among his others). Then, for the most part, he fell silent.

In the decade since, James has surfaced occasionally, at one point even claiming that he had six completed albums’ worth of Aphex Twin material. He’s rumored to be behind an anonymous glitch group called The Tuss, which released some music on James’s Rephlex label in 2007, but he’s never copped to it. He’s definitely behind an odd release earlier this year under the name Caustic Window—odd because the album, a relatively restrained foray into ambient techno and tech-house, was never really meant to be released. Recorded in 1994 but scrapped after just a test pressing, only a few vinyl copies of Caustic Window ever found their way into circulation, occasionally trading hands for thousands of dollars. Finally, some enterprising fans raised the necessary money to buy a copy and release it digitally (with James’s blessing) via a Kickstarter campaign this past June.

But all this activity aside, Syro is still the first official release of new Aphex Twin material in over a decade, which makes it a Very Big Deal in electronic music circles.

One other interesting thing to note about Richard James is that he’s really into hiding images inside his music—literally. At the end of track two of the Windowlicker EP, “Equation” (or as it’s officially titled, “ΔMi−1 = −αΣn=1NDi[n][Σj∈C[i]Fji[n − 1] +Fexti[n−1]]”), he conceals his trademark creepy grinning visage inside the last few seconds of the track’s spectrogram (which you can see here). And on the 2001 EP 2 Remixes by AFX, what sounds like a bunch of piercing, test-signal high frequencies is actually an SSTV transmission, which can be decoded with the appropriate software into what we’re told is an image of James sitting on a couch, along with some text listing all the software used to make the EP (although we couldn’t find this image online anywhere).

While we’re all anxiously awaiting the arrival of Syro, we’ll leave you with another of Aphex Twin’s greatest weird videos, from a 1995 EP called Donkey Rhubarb. Chris Cunningham did not direct this one, so it’s not quite as artful as “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy,” but the Teletubbie-like creatures cavorting around with James’s illustrated face (from the cover of his 1995 album I Care Because You Do) are pretty entertaining. Apparently he brought them out on tour for awhile and used them to mess with the audience before shows. He’s a prankster, that Richard D. James.

In fact, come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t believe he’s releasing a new Aphex Twin album until the day it actually arrives. There’s a good chance he could just be punking us. Or it’ll arrive, but it’ll be in binary code, or embedded in a microchip that can only be played via Apple IIc. Or maybe he’ll drop the only copies out of a blimp. Who knows?

Or, knowing Mr. James and his perverse sense of humor, maybe he’ll pull the ultimate prank on his audiophile fans and only release it via iTunes.

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Computer Jesus Refrigerator’s new video “Rang Zulu” just premiered on Adult Swim

Computer Jesus Refrigerator

It makes us so proud when obscure weird bands we blog about go on to bigger and better things. The latest weirdo to escape Internet obscurity for a taste of the big time is one-man Texas glitch tornado (glitchnado?) Computer Jesus Refrigerator, whose latest video “Rang Zulu” apparently had its premiere on Adult Swim this past week. I say “apparently” because we didn’t actually see it, but we’ll take CJR main man KOKOFREAKBEAN’s word for it.

Now that Adult Swim’s gotten their fancy premiere out of the way, the video is available on YouTube for non-stoned people to enjoy during daylight hours. Like all Computer Jesus creations, most of it looks like two Windows 95 screensavers making sweet, sweet love after candy flipping—but stick around for the Aztec human sacrifice, and for the ending, which features an army of ghost warriors invading what appears to be the dumpster alley behind a San Antonio supermarket, before they’re all sucked Ghostbusters-style into a little red jewelry box. To be continued? We can only hope.

The Soft Pink Truth’s electronic black metal album, “Why Do the Heathen Rage?”, is out now

Drew Daniel of The Soft Pink Truth
Photo by M.C. Schmidt

Remember when we told you that Drew Daniel of Matmos was releasing an all-electronic album of black metal covers through his solo project, The Soft Pink Truth? Well, the album arrived this past week, and it’s even more hilariously batshit than we could have hoped for. You can hear the whole thing via Spotify and other fine streaming sites, or watch this extremely gay and frostbitten video for his hardcore techno version of Venom’s “Black Metal” for a taste of the project’s highly irreverent approach to its source material:

Daniel, who is gay, loves black metal but hates its politics, which tend to be a wee bit racist, homophobic and, y’know, white supremacist. So he meant for Why Do the Heathen Rage? to be equal parts homage and piss-take. “I wanted to be a kind of Satanic serpent that sneaks in the Garden of Eden of black metal and fucks with it,” he said in a recent interview with XLR8R, “takes the sacred bands, like Mayhem and Darkthrone, and trashes them. I mean, it’s a trashing that’s born out of love, but it’s also born out of a desire to provoke and piss off.”

It’s both a queer and punk-rock way to tackle black metal, which is so hidebound in rigid conventions and notions of “authenticity” that even some of the genre’s purveyors have grown sick of it. When we interviewed current Mayhem guitarist Teloch and asked him about experimental black metal bands like Deafheaven, he had this to say: “To me, when you say experiment and black metal together in a sentence, it’s no longer black metal. To me black metal has strict rules and codes to follow for it being black metal, but that’s also the reason why I quit playing/listening to black metal years ago.”

Lest there be any doubt that Daniel was casting a queer eye on black metal, he premiered one of the album’s tracks, “Ready to Fuck,” on the website of BUTT, a British gay magazine.

The rest of Why Do the Heathen Rage? is in a similar glitchy, electronic vein, but with definite touches of black metal’s death rasp vocals and pounding, relentless sense of doom. It’s dark music that will put a smile on your face. You can order up a copy of the album from Thrill Jockey Records or via Amazon.com.

Computer Jesus Refrigerator

Computer Jesus Refrigerator
Photo swiped from Coilhouse

I have to start off by thanking the guy who wrote us up on Metafilter last week, a website that apparently has the magical power to make even a half-assed music blog like ours more popular than catbeard photos. So thanks, narain! Hopefully by the time we post this, you and all the other Metafilterlings won’t have lost interest and moved on in search of…well, catbeard photos, probably. That shit is all the rage these days.

The Metafilter crowd suggested a ton of potential new Weird List fodder that Andy and I are still sifting through, but we wanted to jump right on at least one band submitted by all you highly opinionated newcomers. After much debate, we decided to go with symbioid‘s pick of glitch/noise outfit Computer Jesus Refrigerator, because we liked the name and their videos reminded me of when I used to scarf like 10 Pixy Stix all at once and spin around on the front lawn until it looked like the hedges were attacking me sideways. Yeah, I was basically the Gary Busey of my third grade class.

We don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Computer Jesus Refrigerator. They seem to be from Texas, but we’re not sure what part. This WFMU post says they’re from Austin, but their Bandcamp page is tagged San Antonio and their YouTube channel says they’re from Antarctica, which I assume is a joke but could also be an actual town in Texas for all I know. Maybe next to this one.

CJR is mostly the work of one dude named Michael Vasquez, who also goes by the name of KOKOFREAKBEAN. He likes to call his stuff “tonk honky,” which is as good a name for it as any. He plays drums, keyboards and samplers and also does all the project’s artwork, some of which is fucking amazing. He also designs the band’s costumes, which kind of look like his artwork come to life, in a very Caroliner kid’s-coloring-book-on-acid sorta way. Not sure if all CJR shows feature Vasquez on drums and another person on keyboards, but here’s a show from 2009 that does just that. I particularly like the way he yells at the audience in what sounds like a cross between Spanish, Swahili and Sullustese.

As mind-bending as that was, the videos Vasquez makes for CJR’s little 30-to-90-second bursts of glitchcore are even more extreme. Here’s our favorite.

As if all that weren’t enough, KOKOFREAKBEAN also makes disgusting little video shorts for Funny or Die. If you’re at work, don’t click that link. Guess I probably shoulda told you that in advance, huh?

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