Various – Zelphabet; volumes A, B, & C

Zelphabet A, B, and C are the first three compilations of challenging and strange music in GX Jupitter-Larsen’s 27-part subscription CD series. “Twenty-seven,” you ask? Yep, there’s an extra letter that Jupitter-Larsen has appended to the common alphabet, specifically for this series– naturally, it’s only available to those who subscribe to the full series, rather than purchasing individual discs. At $200, this works out to something like $7 a disc– not a bad deal, especially for our overseas friends recently enjoying kick-ass purchasing power. Perhaps some fine Englishman will share his economic fortune with a poor reviewer?

All money aside, the Zelphabet series is a great idea. As a noise scene pioneer, Jupitter-Larsen has an opportunity to play elder statesman, and present a handful of worthwhile artists with each disc. It’s like the “Rrrecycled” tapes, but done with some class, and considerable more attention to quality.

Straight out the gate, Zelphabet “A” gives listeners two things that have defined each disc thus far– something new, and something that you’re astounded to find on a compilation. For “A,” I’m getting my first aural encounters with Achim Wollscheid, who has done a great number of fascinating sound and light installations throughout the world. A good compilation not only gathers music of similar intent or style, but it will inform listeners as well. Wollscheid’s “3 Transformations for Xylophone” is not the foot I was expecting a member of The Haters to put forward first, but it’s useful and sets the tone nicely.

As for the “astounding” portion, how about a recording each from Arcane Device and Asmus Tietchens? Either one of these artists would have been enough to seal the deal! For his contribution, David Lee Myers turns over a remix of unreleased Arcane Device material created from 1987 to 1993, the fruits of which would be realized more recently in Toshimaru Nakamura‘s no-input mixing board work. Quiet music fans, behold the noise from which you have sprung!

Let’s move on to Zelphabet “B”– Jupitter-Larsen covers one big base of this four-way split with a cut from Bob Bellerue (AKA, Redglaer), previous head at LA’s infamous “Il Corral” space. For his portion, “Fridge Tower,” Bellerue presents a richly-detailed soundscape of humming and cracking motor-whine noises. It’s easily my favorite of the bunch, though Blackhumour‘s “and do what/control” gets points for sheer audacity… nearly 19 minutes of verbal fragments endlessly repeating, with little more than stereo pans to change things up! If there’s a concept for this track, I’m not finding it. On a more positive note, I’ve finally had a chance to hear 16 Bitch Pile-Up, and I’m glad to say that it was worth the wait. “No Burden, No Guilt” is a bit more along the lines of what I was initially expecting from these compilations– rough, ear-chewing noise– and totally makes the “B” disc worth a listen, along with the Bellerue material.

(Totally off-track: As I write this, I’m managing a humorous thread at BlogCatalog entitled “I Will Say Horrible Non-Constructive Things About Your Blog,” as a means to generate new readers for STARTLING MONIKER. It’s getting increasingly hard to shift between the mode of “objective reviewer” and “ridiculous insult machine.” The things I do for you!)

Zelphabet “C” starts off strong with an 11-minute extract from a 1974 Charlemagne Palestine performance. Palestine is one of the last people I’d expect to find on a noise compilation, but I’m seeing again and again that my concept of what this series “should be” is being challenged, and this process has been interesting. I suppose I find myself listening to Palestine in much the same way, seeking the neglected detail in a larger sea; but I don’t get as much of a sense of helplessness for eventually understanding the totality of it that I get from something more noisy.

After the 11 minutes are up, “C” drops listeners into Chop Shop’s swirling noise-storm of metallic grinding and overdriven generator bursts, “Retrofit.” Scott Konzelmann’s speakers definitely get a workout here, taking up nearly half the disc. But this is really the kind of stuff I want to hear– veteran noise artists with some thought and experience behind what they’re doing, capable of pulling off an extended and detailed piece without relying so much on effect-pedal kitsch. “Retrofit” reminds me alternately of a low-key Daniel Menche, John Hudak, or Francisco Lopez… definitely good company, in my esteem. Be sure to click through on the Chop Shop link; Generator Sound Art is Konzelmann and Gen Ken Montgomery’s label, so there’s a load of great recordings to be had there.

A 15-minute synth bloop-fest closes out “C,” maybe a bit longish for my taste, but somewhat interesting. Personally, I could have gone for more of Contagious Orgasm‘s “Heart Station,” a surreal blend of Japanese culture reportage and disorienting noises.

So far, the Zelphabet series is really exciting stuff, and well-worth the investment for any noise fan serious about getting to know the previous generation or two of artists. Jupitter-Larsen’s apt curatorship beats file-sharing any day, so I’m highly recommending that you get in on this set before its gone.

The Zelphabet series is available through GX Jupitter-Larsen directly, at the Zelphabet site.

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