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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a.P.A.t.T.

a.P.A.t.T.

This week’s weird band was suggested by an excellently named reader called Adam Whybray. He describes a.P.A.t.T. as sounding “a bit like a glitchy Mr. Bungle cult that formed down the pub.” And while that’s probably as good a description as any of these cheeky Liverpudlians (although it doesn’t contain the word “Liverpudlian,” which is one of those words you should use every chance you get), it really only scratches the surface of what this avant-pop art-school project has achieved in its 15-odd years of existence.

a.P.A.t.T. (what does it stand for? how do you pronounce it? who knows? who cares?) formed in Liverpool in 1997 or 1998. Their early goal, according to their Wikipedia page (which the band links to from their official site, so let’s assume it’s semi-accurate), was to “make, find, imagine, and create ‘secret music,'” by which they seemed to mean music that abandoned traditional song structures and instrumentation. You can hear some of the band’s early stuff on Welcome to a​.​P​.​A​.​t​.​T. Island – A collection of earlies, which veers sharply between abstract, ambient noise and bursts of spastic, genre-hopping art-pop that reveals some of those Mr. Bungle influences that Adam picked up, as well as an even more direct early influence (and another favorite of ours around here), Cardiacs.

By 2005 or so, the band’s music had become even harder to categorize. On the Fre(e.P), they started doing Girl Talk-like mashups, mixing recognizable pop and classic rock samples with trip-hop beats and trashy club rap, but doing it in a style meant more to be unsettling than party-starting. Check the amazing “Megamix Part 1” for a taste of what happens when you cram the Jackson 5, Coolio, Portishead and “What a Day for a Daydream” into the same track.

Meanwhile, they were also developing a live soundtrack for the silent-film-era vampire classic, Nosferatu, complete with strings. Because hey, why not?

In 2008, they reinvented themselves yet again, transforming into a Zappa-like prog/jazz/metal/psych-rock orchestra on the epic, 27-track Black & White Mass. Most recently, they released Paul the Record, a split album with a band called Peepholes, then decided to embrace the “playlist on shuffle” mentality of our modern age with Ogadimma, a 14-track set on which no two songs are done in the same style. They’ve also shot videos for all 14 songs; taken collectively, they’re pretty amazing. Here they are, for example, in full-on Prince-meets-Of-Montreal mode:

Now try to remember, as you watch this next video, that this is the same band:

They also cite Ween as one of their influences, which honestly didn’t make sense to me until I heard the casual, tongue-in-cheek virtuosity of the Ogadimma stuff: “Oh, you want to hear us do some ’80s synth-pop? Sure, here you go. No big whoop.” (Among their other listed influences: The Residents, Duran Duran, Captain Beefheart, John Zorn, Slayer, Claude Debussy, ABBA, and The Beatles. Much like a.P.A.t.T.’s actual music, this list simultaneously makes no sense and all the sense in the world.)

You’ll notice up until now that I haven’t mentioned any of a.P.A.t.T.’s members by name. That’s because, quite frankly, I have no idea who these people are. a.P.A.t.T don’t perform wearing masks or anything, but they do (mostly) stick to an all-white costume palette that seems to help them maintain a semi-anonymous quality. That plus, let’s be honest here, a.P.A.t.T. is not the world’s most Google-friendly band name. According to their Wikipedia page, their core members go by the names General MIDI, Field Marshall Stack, Dorothy Wave, Master Fader and The Researcher, but that’s all I know.

Oh, did I mention that they sometimes perform site-specific works as a full fucking orchestra? Well, they do. If you want to hear them performing John Zorn and Steve Reich compositions, buy this.

We’ll wrap this post up with a clip of a.P.A.t.T’s live show (non-orchestra version), which looks like jolly good fun. That lady keyboard player (Dorothy Wave, we presume) has sure got some sick dance moves.

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Pink Project

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This week’s band comes to us from a reader named Alex Thermostellar Duddy (Thermduddy, to his bros) and from the dark, twisted heart of the early ’80s. Back then, much of Italy was getting its hairy-chested groove on to the synth-heavy sounds of Italo-disco, a whole weird genre unto itself that might have been the missing link between Kraftwerk and Detroit techno. Or it might just have been what happens when a bunch of Italian dudes with cheap synthesizers and a Giorgio Moroder jones try to make dance music after an all-night cocaine and Chianti bender. And I know it doesn’t sound like I mean that as a compliment, but I do. Italo-disco rules. It just rules in a trashy, gold-chain, uniquely Italian way.

One of the Italo-disco scene’s less heralded producers, a guy named Stefano Pulga, originally conceived Pink Project as a one-off—a slightly tongue-in-cheek disco rework of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and Alan Parsons Project’s “Mammagamma.” It was a mashup decades before that term even existed—except that, given the more primitive quality of samplers back in the day (and the looser laws governing cover songs, as opposed to wholesale sampling), it was easier for Pulga to just get together with some of his Italo-disco buddies and a hired children’s choir and record the whole thing themselves. Released under the title “Disco Project,” it was probably never meant to be more than a curiosity piece, while Pulga turned his attention back to his solo stuff and his other, semi-successful group, Kano, who were churning out fairly awful Italo-disco hits like this.

But then something unexpected happened: “Disco Project,” at least in Italy, became a hit. The track’s popularity in 1982 reached such heights that Pink Project began getting invitations to appear on American Bandstand-style Italian TV shows—which was sort of a problem, because as a band, Pink Project didn’t really exist. Pulga solved this rather ingeniously by hiring some performers (one of whom may or may not have been Pulga himself) to show up disguised in black hooded monk’s robes and mime playing the song. Combined in this clip with a fresh-faced children’s choir, the effect is both disturbing and totally ridiculous.

Flush with the success of  “Disco Project,” Pulga decided to put out a sequel of sorts: another mashup, this time of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and The Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy,” released under the title “B-Project.” As far as we’ve been able to find out, it was never a hit, but it’s even more fantastic than the Floyd/Parsons medley. And when Pink Project got invited to appear on another TV show, Pulga one-upped himself by…well, just watch and you’ll see.

Pink Project’s recorded output also consisted several other mashups, including a Police/Vangelis hybrid we quite like, a collision of Trio’s “Da Da Da” and Falco’s “Der Kommissar” called (obviously) “Der Da Da Da,” and a “Rockit”/”Superstition” mash that, sadly, is nowhere as awesome as that combo sounds. They also released a few original tracks, although the less said about them, the better.

All of Pink Project’s singles and their two albums, Domino and Split, are out of print, and there’s not much more info about the project on the web, at least in English. Even Stefano Pulga’s official website only mentions the group in passing (and in Italian, so we’re not sure what he says about it, except that it was “un prodotto nuovo”). But all of their stuff is widely available on YouTube and collector’s websites like Discogs, as well as a few of those naughty Torrent sites, if that’s your thing.

So what do you think? Italo-disco ’80s mashups—superior to hipster ’00s mashups? We say yes. Especially when delivered by guys dressed up like a low-budget cross between Xanadu and Lord of the Rings.

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