A whole lotta Mystified reviews, pt.1

I’ve been listening to Thomas Park’s Mystified recordings for over a year now, with his unique takes on ambient and noise peppering many of my broadcasts. Oddly enough, I have yet to review a single one of his discs– the plan was always to do the first few I owned in a small lump, but Mystified’s punishing release schedule (and enormous back catalog) often meant I was listening to more Mystified as soon as I put another down!

Between the fact that I can’t keep myself away from STL’s Apop Records, and Park generously making so many net-releases, what once was a small group of reviews has become an unwieldy archipelago. As you can see, I’ve already had to split it!

Let’s dive right in, okay?

“Think Cosmically, Act Locally” is a double 3″ CDR from Roil Noise, and is an excellent place to start for new Mystified listeners as it effectively gathers many of the elements used throughout Mystified’s catalog. “Think Cosmically,” is also a nice starting place because it is less obviously repetitious, a key facet of Park’s work that could easily be misunderstood or under-appreciated in an initial listen. Although ultimately a non-narrative work like most of Park’s outings; the evocative sounds of broken and mis-formed communication, “field recording”-like drain tunnel sounds, and wind noises are tantalizingly simple to begin assembling into something of a story. Like the discs themselves, the tracks also form a kind of dichotomy– more natural elements interspersed with similar sounds heard in a “re-broadcast” or “second-generation” way, like shy aliens eavesdropping on a lonely military installation. A more traditional road might have led listeners to a confrontation between these two groups, but if anything, “Think Cosmically…” puts listeners sympathetically in the aliens’ shoes, content to listen and wait.

“Mellow Utility” is a CDR on Oslo-based Ambolthue Records, Mystified’s second for the label, both released in 2007. This recording isn’t quite as strongly repetitive as some Mystified discs, though the repetitiousness is definitely beginning to set in– particularly with tracks like “Don’t Ask,” featuring down-pitched sirens and restless phase waves. “Mellow Feed,” sounding much like a series of very slow tones blended end-to-end; creates lovely harmonic effects between stereo speakers, sort of a phantom “second voice” in the mix. Where “Mellow Utility” suffers, though, is with it’s identity. After listening to enough of Park’s work, it’s abundantly clear that he’s fascinated with sounds of all sorts– for someone picking up a first Mystified disc, though, Park’s enthusiasm for different sounds may be a bit too scattershot.

“Instability” is Park’s first CDR for Ambolthue, and also from 2007. If any Mystified album could garner a larger response for Mystified, it would have to be this one, and easily the most harsh of the bunch. Sounding like a more aurally-concerned hybrid of The Haters and Muslimgauze, “Instability” features record-needle-dragging noise, distorted city buses (seemingly, a Mystified fave source for some reason), eardrum-piercing tones, and even a little induced nausea for the listener when some of the standing waves start infiltrating the Eustachian tubes with overtones. Listeners should also note Park’s tendency to revisit certain sounds/sources, such as the growing chaotic qualities of “Brannon Construct” versions 1, 2, and 3; all of which appear on the disc. As a side note, Sandy Spreitz’s collage cover art for “Instability” is really cool.

“Iron” is a CDR on Turgid Animal Records, Park’s second for the label since his split CDR with Coco and Fiend Friend, “Hamburger Horizons.” You’ll find “Instability 2” (and 3!) on this disc, as well as “Into Static,” the number 2 version being found on “Mellow Utility.” One of these days, and extra-obsessive fan will do the legwork and draw me a diagram of these sorts of things… Until then, back to reviewing. One interesting thing about re-listening to so much Mystified material at once was realizing that I had started to develop my own internal vocabulary for sorting and describing the discs: “Think Cosmically, Act Locally” was a mix of “indoor” and “outdoor” tracks, with “Mellow Utility” being mostly “outdoor.” If you’re following along much with how I think about these things, you can see how “Iron” would have an “indoor” sound– less focused on sourced-sounds, more attention to pattern, and an increased palette of tone due to processing.

It’s not a hard-and-fast decree– “The Edge of the River (edit)” features very prominent water samples surrounded by a fast-moving miasma of electrical discharge, and “Rubber Cats 2” manages to jar me with a transient “bump” sound that comes out of nowhere and quickly disappears. And really, that’s the most tricky thing about listening to Mystified– superficially, almost every track is a series of looping elements– but when you wade out into them, you hear how what appears to be a loop is actually a collection of sounds undergoing a constant change… much like a swarm of flying insects, recognizable as a group no matter their exact position within it.

“Displaced Assemblage” is a CDR release on Bone Structure, one of three Mystified releases for the label so far. A split with Roto Visage is scheduled to be released later this year. If Mystified has a blues album, “Displaced Assemblage” is it. Aside from the weird side-trip of “Scientific Barrage (dance mix),” and it’s abstract beat, this is a fairly depressing album. “Empty Nest” practically sighs with a soundscape of birds, trains, and quiet desperation. Beautifully pieced-together, it’s a real high point of the album. “Dronefield” follows suit, with drawn-out elements tinged with ennui. Even “Please Remain Calm” seems too worn out by life to really tear the roof off noise-style, and instead settles for a circular scraping sound, like caged bears pawing on concrete. The final track, “Feed and Drone” has the feeling of an enormous being, settling down for sleep. Great stuff! I think it’s a release of 80, so hopefully, it’s not sold out.

“Strange Traffic 1 & 2” is a bizcard CDR on Roil Noise. Clocking in at under 5 minutes, I suppose it’s more of a curiosity than anything, but still sounds pretty damn good. Great mastering delivers a powerful bit of volume for this snack, which seems primarily comprised of road noise– the whine of tires on grooved pavement, truck horns, and the sympathetic hum of highway bridges– processed and blended into ringing tones and noise. Cool!

“Granular Cloud” is a bizcard CDR on Serpent Movement Recordings, and the second in their “Black Plague” series of bizcard releases. Serpent Movement plans to release a Mystified/The Sleeping Room split CDR later this year. This one is a Mystified oddity– what sounds like fragments of disperate Nine Inch Nails track elements are rebroadcast in a strange, un-worked mash. A greater form of repetition holds things together, with serious tension ultimately arising from Park’s steadfast refusal to adopt any song structure initially suggested by the track. With only a release of 10, a little shame should go to Serpent Movement for such poor execution of the cover art– a rather poorly-printed pixel-y image of some sort of Grim Reaper. Hopefully, this sort of thing has since been taken care of, or the design farmed out.

I need a freakin’ Coke, and I don’t have any. That being said, let’s examine the tapes:

“I Died/Mystified” is obviously a split cassette, on the Black and Purple label. It is his first release with the label, with both releases being split C30s. The “I Died” side is terrible, I won’t kid you. I really didn’t like this side at all; it seemed artless and derivative. When it wasn’t mindlessly chugging forward, some voice would pop in and yak for a while in an effected voice. Saying this openly means I can effectively count on never receiving a promo release from Black and Purple, because as I understand it, I Died is also the label owner. However, I am otherwise totally unfamiliar with I Died’s recordings, and am still open to hearing more of his work– if I’m wrong, and you can prove it– do it!

Thankfully, the Mystified side kicks ass, so it wasn’t a waste of my $3. Thank you, Apop, for keeping tapes cheap. There’s an edit of “Rubber Cats” from “Iron,” and “Brannon Construct 4,” which you may remember had three separate versions on “Instability.” A nice proto-bassline pops along in “Holy Smoke,” making for a bit of an unusual, but enjoyable cut. Levels on both sides of the tape are pretty hot, and have decent mastering– it’s noise, so I’m assuming any hum is half-intended/half-equipment.

“Sand of Ages” is Mystified’s other release for Black and Purple, as a split with Ctephin. The mastering of this tape is quite a bit better than the other, with a very clear sound throughout, though with a bit less volume overall. Mystified’s side features a lot more percussion elements, but less of the subtle changes that inform so much of Park’s cuts. It’s almost a bit too straightforward, but enjoyable nonetheless. Ctephin, however, just about rips the top of my head off! Although the tape doesn’t have the hottest levels, Ctephin’s drones simply permeated my home– there was nowhere I could go that I couldn’t hear this roaring cycle of noise– even outdoors, enough shot through my old house that I had to pause and reflect on how effective certain sounds are at getting one’s attention.  As a quick note, classy cover art too!

“Krellmuse” is the last freakin’ thing I’m reviewing today. It’s a C52 from Abandon Ship Records, who have a lot of really nice-looking tapes and CDRs I’d love to have. First person to send me a copy of Bjerga/Iversen’s “Empire of Dirt” wins! “Krellmuse” is kind of like a companion tape to Mystified’s brand new “Planete Interdite” CDR on Roil— but whereas “Fatal Planet” is a reworking/re-imagining of the original “Forbidden Planet” soundtrack, “Krellmuse” attempts to inhabit the collective mind of some of the film’s unseen characters and create something of their music. As the title indicates, this would be the Krell– highly advanced frog-creatures now long extinct. To this effect, Park presents a well-blended fog of mostly-relaxed drone– as a fan of the movie, you have to notice the layer of turmoil under the surface of many portions of the tape, such as “Deep Trouble.” If such underlying tension could destroy the Krell in one night, what could it do here?

Whew! All done for now. In my next installment, look for reviews of: “Balam,” “Planete Interdite,” “Mystified vs. Ghoul Detail,” “Rough vs. Smooth,” ‘Layers & Levels,” “Diminished,” “Spacewater,” and “D-Program.”

3 Responses to “A whole lotta Mystified reviews, pt.1”

  1. mystified13 Says:

    These were fun to read and smart! Thanks for all the time you took. As of now, this is probably THE definitive collection of mystified reviews– anywhere.

  2. matthew Says:

    yeah, I agree – great reviews…thanks for your time – it wasn’t wasted.

    one of the great things is trying to discern what’s going on in these tracks…there’s one in particular (“Retreating Communication”) that sounds like a good bit of wind/noise with a prhrase randomly repeated/distorted (it sounds like “here’s Washington”???!). Anyway, these songs get you thinking…what is going on here?

  3. Hymns Says:

    wonderful reviews!! very insightful.

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