The Bay Area has long been at the forefront of experimental electronic music, and since 2005, Resipiscent Records has been documenting the latest developments in this vital tradition. Working within the thriving local scene and beyond, Resipiscent has released CDs and cassette tapes by artists like Liz Allbee, Core of the Coalman, and Anti-Ear. The music is diverse, but always both exploratory and playful. Label cofounder Hans Grüsel, for example, charts out the vast timbral possibilities of analog electronics, costumed as a nightmarish cuckoo clock.
These threads of experimentation and playfulness can be traced at least as far back as the Bay Area's early innovators of electronic music. The San Francisco Tape Music Center was founded in 1962 as an underground institute for fostering the emerging electronic music. That same year, Don Buchla established his electronic musical instrument company in Berkeley, where he soon invented the analog modular synthesizer. From these strong foundations, musicians have continued pursuing new sensibilities with self-reliant invention. Resipiscent Records exists to make them heard.
Many of Resipiscent's artists still work with analog equipment derived from Buchla's invention. Modular synthesis is all over the Resipiscent catalog, notably in use on two new releases: Loachfillet's Electric Pond: Solar Solution, and Serge Modular Users 2009, a compilation of music created with Serge modular synthesizers. Serge directly follows the innovation of Buchla, and was itself based for a time in the Bay Area.
Hans Grüsel, the compiler of this anthology, was first introduced to electronic music while visiting South Transform Systems in Oakland in the early 1990s. "I remember visiting ... after they took over production of the Serge Modular, and being amazed at the depth and focus of this instrument's design," he recalled. "I was still composing with pen and paper for 'classical' instruments, and had never touched a piece of electronics in my life. I saw the modular mindset as a palette that could be placed under the composer's fingers, opening up, for me, a world that was not unlike that of the traditional symphony orchestra." Preferring this expanded palette and its immediacy of control, he soon set down pen and paper in favor of patch cable and knob, founding Hans Grüsel's Kränkenkabinet in 1999.
Grüsel usually performs dressed as a Black Forest cuckoo clock in a Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale-nightmare diorama owing as much to local noise-folkies Caroliner as to the Brothers Grimm. His devices are electronic rather than mechanical, but Grüsel's music nonetheless resembles the clockwork alluded to by his costume. Synthesizer clicks and buzzes, in looping rhythms like so many layered gears, create a complex mechanical texture driving much of his work. This music is good for hanging on a wall, announcing the hours.
A heavy-handed clockwork march rhythm, maddeningly insistent, drives Grüsel's contribution to the Serge compilation. Over this militaristic pulse, he showcases the Serge synthesizer's range — a whole spectrum of timbral possibilities sliding over each other.
Like Grüsel, Oakland's Loachfillet also focuses on the analog end of electronics, controlling terrifying tape loops, oscillators, and defective circuits, enshrouded in his kitschy vampire cape. His 2006 album, Cut Throat Rogues, was a cauldron of murky, groaning, brutal noise showing the influence of old horror and sci-fi sound effects and soundtracks. His new Resipiscent CD, Electric Pond, shows him stretching out into an area of tasteful restraint. With the addition of a modular synthesizer, the album is permeated with patient stasis. The strongest tracks on the album are subdued atmospheric pieces, with long tones slowly developing as Loachfillet patiently observes the synthesizer's self-modulation at work. He explains, "The entire album is more or less an homage to the synthesizer albums of the 20th century," notably works by SF Tape Music Center cofounder Morton Subotnick.
Electric Pond also contains a few hints of Loachfillet's passion for psychedelic world pop music, a passion more properly manifested in his role as a DJ for the monthly International Freakout A Go-Go. The album closer is a psychedelic krautrock freak-out: With delayed guitar soloing and dissonant organ chords over a driving bass, it's evocative of the jams of Can and Bitches Brew — "a melted brain bake in the studio."
Loachfillet characterizes his album as a distillation of playful experimentation in the studio; experiencing a live performance fills in the cracks between these chosen moments with the vitality of discovery and the anxiety of failure. Despite the philosophical implications for his record label, Grüsel's partner in Resipiscent, James Decker insists, "The artists we put out have to be heard live since experimentation is so much about time, accident, and the manifold rifts between thought and action." Witness the playful experimentation of Hans Grüsel, Loachfillet, and other Resipiscent artists unfold in real time on Sunday, October 25, at Annie's Social Club. The new albums will be released officially on Oct. 31.