label primer: five from LOM

"There are people who get bored with the 'usual' music. You know – melodies, harmonies and rhythms." -Jonáš Gruska

(LOM graphic by martina pauková)

welcome to issue #17 of “tusk is better than rumours,” a newsletter featuring primers and album rankings of experimental and ‘outsider’ musicians. artist primers are published every other monday, and on off-weeks i publish a variety of articles ranging from label and genre primers to interviews to guest writers.

this week features an introduction to the LOM label based out of bratislava, slovakia. for almost a decade, label head jonáš gruska has used LOM to highlight work by experimental musicians from eastern and central europe. though the label is in large part focused on field recording, any number of surprises can be found in its discography, from the sound of folding paper cranes to the sound of a woman locked in a freezer with a violin.

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the most exciting thing that has happened to me this past week was substack’s announcement that it now supports direct bandcamp embeds. as soon as i heard the news i rushed to my Content Creation Pod (the other side of the couch, closer to the wall outlet) and prepared to Create Content (plugged my laptop in to the wall outlet). i simply couldn’t wait to share bandcamp embeds from one of my favorite netlabels LOM. then i looked at twitter for 100 hours straight.

LOM is run by field recordist and instrument builder jonáš gruska. the goal of the label is to release albums from experimental artists in eastern and central europe, from poland to lithuania to russia to gruska’s native slovakia. the label is located in a former butcher’s shop in the petržalka district of bratislava, which can either look horrifying or captivating, depending on your point of view. from his storefront space in this seemingly unpropitious setting, gruska runs the label, builds and ships his line of microphones, and hosts concerts, lectures, and diy workshops.

“horrifying or captivating, depending on your point of view” also describes much of LOM’s output. gruska’s own work confronts the complexities of the czech republic and slovakia’s communist past. these countries’ built environments include imposing reminders of a bygone political orthodoxy, the material manifestations of which czech and slovakian residents still live in and among. he’s recorded albums in abandoned soviet-era marketplaces and psychiatric hospitals. albums by labelmates sometimes share this interest in wresting beauty from the desolate, as in jan ryhalsky’s Iron Skeletons, recorded in a disused cement factory on the border of russia and china. machine metal resonates and concrete rooms echo across these records to sometimes disturbing, often hypnotic effect.

other artists on LOM move consciously in the opposite direction, from post-industrial gloom toward natural calm. izabela dłużyk creates immersive sound documents of polish fields and forests on her Soundscapes of summer and Soundscapes of spring. and elena pustova, aka voi doid, explores the meditative potential of trance on Atman-Brahmin. though the range of moods on LOM releases—from apocalyptic claustrophobia to detached serenity—suggests a lack in focus for the label, it is actually a testament to the interest in the capability of sound to transform consciousness that unites all of its artists.

below i’ve chosen five albums (in addition to those mentioned above) that highlight the varieties of ways that LOM artists explore sound. presented chronologically from earliest to most recent release date, and now with fancy bandcamp embeds:

Daniel Kordík, [Sy][ria] (2013)

daniel kordík went to syria in the first months of the civil war, in april and may of 2011. he traveled to different scenes of conflict, including damascus, palmyra, aleppo, and hama, recording with a handheld minidisc recorder to avoid notice of the government forces that were then increasingly violent toward protesters. later, he cut his recordings into pieces and re-arranged them. the effect is disorienting, as a sound comes roaring into focus and then recedes, only to be replaced by another sound. the trick is that you don’t know what new sound is coming next: the rumble of a motorbike, a call for prayer, birdsong, a radio ad. much like the citizens of syria caught in the conflict, you don’t what will happen second to second. the album art, consisting of a photo taken by kordík in hama and then post-processed by andrej chudý, reflects the uncertainty of the time by presenting a clear image of a suburban block that only on second look appears to be disintegrating, ghostlike, unable to maintain its integrity.

Artificial Memory Trace, Reprint (2015)

slavek kwi, aka artificial memory trace, is quite a prolific fellow but i’m particularly drawn to this recording of his work at a printing press in belgium in 1993. the majority of this recording is of work done at an offset printing machine, which keeps its own droning rhythm interrupted occasionally by staticky intercom or walkie-talkie messages. each step in the process, from printing to cutting to photocopying to assembling, has its own unique sound, so the careful listener can follow the process from blank page to completed pamphlet.

hmmmm it strikes me that that description makes the record sound incredibly boring, but it is, in fact, not. it’s a document of an activity in a place and time (offset printing, belgium, 1993) that most of us have never experienced and therefore provides a glimpse into the lives of otherwise completely unknown workers. anyway, just in case you disagree, here is an objectively interesting tidbit about kwi from the album’s liner notes: “just before emigration to belgium he was working on giant rotation machines which produced unbearable noise and heat.” this suggests that he never completed his giant rotation machines which produced unbearable noise and heat, but i for one would be interested in seeing a giant rotation machine which produces unbearable noise and heat in action.

Various Artists, Sensing Electromagnetics (2016)

in some circles gruska is known more for building instruments and microphones than recording or releasing albums. his most notable instrument, which is… also a microphone i guess, is the elektrosluch, which picks up electromagnetic frequencies put out by electronic devices. turns out there is an entire spectrum of sound that constantly surrounds us but that we can’t normally hear. for Sensing Electromagnetics, he put out an open call for people make their own recordings of electromagnetic fields (it’s not necessary to use the elektrosluch to pick up electromagnetic frequencies—modified antennas and guitar pickups work too). as you can see, he got an amazing response: 22 contributors from around the world sent in their work. though recording an electromagnetic field would seem to be a passive activity—the field exists as it exists, after all—each of the artists featured found a way to control their recording, moving their equipment in ways that create unique beats and timbres. and the cartoon woman on the cover (using a different type of electromagnetic antenna, the priezor) has become an unofficial logo for the hardware side of the LOM operation.

Avsluta, fold. (2019)

the award for most influential album made solely through the manipulation of paper still goes to steve roden’s Forms of Paper, avsluta’s album from last year is a contender in all future contests. lucie štepánková’s project with this album is to create a soundworld out of the japanese tradition of senbazuru, in which the folding of 1,000 paper cranes ensures that a wish will come true. it begins incredibly quietly, with each gesture of folding and creasing made audible. as the piece continues, more and more cranes are added to the mix—i think by moving them on and around a contact microphone—until it sounds like crunching leaves, then falling rain, then a roaring fire. this is a surefire hit for the asmr crowd, but also a study in repetition, discipline, and detail.

Tijana Stanković, Freezer (2020)

the violinist and vocalist tijana stanković recorded this album locked in a meat freezer. that’s right. in a series of four improvisations using extended techniques for violin and voice (sometimes together, sometimes separate), she explores the space of the freezer physically through its reverb and metaphorically through its connotations of isolation and preservation—“to freeze is to preserve,” she says. her violin playing is often atonal and her vocals are often amelodic, but they come together in moments of exquisite beauty here. the best track is the closer “salty words,” which is a 14-minute exploration of the potentials of both of her chosen instruments. it is funereal and dramatic and compelling, and one would guess that it would be somehow more difficult to pull off if she were not alone, shut off from the world, literally locked away.

alright so i don’t have any extra Content this week so i thought i would highlight a few other music newsletters that might interest y’all:

tone glow: full disclosure i write for tone glow too but the real draw is editor joshua minsoo kim’s interviews with figures from the experimental music community. he selects people from the Old Guard (annea lockwood, terri hanlon) as well as emerging voices (lucy liyou, claire rousay). you might have seen the epic jim o’rourke interview getting passed around on social media.

abundant living: zachary lipez writes long-form pieces on absurd aspects of indie music culture, such as this 2800-word essay on danzig that nobody asked for because nobody would have thought to ask for it.

happiness journal: leah b. levinson writes fragmentary, diaristic, poetic posts about whatever she happens to be listening to at the moment. most recently, she wrote this massive rumination on identity and genre, which happens to also be a review of the new fire-toolz album.

pink noise: today is literally the first issue of this newsletter in which sam tornow works against the Algorithm by recommending experimental music. i counted 14 music recs in this issue so if you can keep up you will be a walking encyclopedia in no time.

awful mass: psych! i said all these would be about music but this one is about architecture. i don’t know who writes this but it is some almost psychedelically engaging writing about how the modern world is a hellscape fashioned by the tasteless rich.

OK that’s all folks, see you next week.

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