label primer: rrrecycled music

selections from rrron lessard's rrrecords' rrrecycled music series

(the cover of the recycled music tape by poète maudit)

welcome to issue #26 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 i dove into the catalog of legendary lowell, massachusetts noise label rrrecords to select a handful of their “recycled music” releases.

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rrrecords is a store in lowell, massachusetts run by ron lessard. to unwitting consumers on google reviews, lessard is a “kind,” “helpful,” and “polite” shopkeep who will buy your mom’s old records. but to those in the know he is one of the most important figures in noise music. as owner of the rrrecords label, rrron was rrresponsible for the first american vinyl rrreleases of merzbow, masonna, and other japanoise luminaries. on top of that, rrrecords has put out hundreds of albums by noise stars including wolf eyes, prurient, and incapacitants as well as noise-adjacent artists like c. spencer yeh, nurse with wound, and john oswald.

the rrrecords label’s flagship series is called “recycled music” or “rrrecycled music,” in which the artist’s work is recorded over any old cassette lessard might have laying around. the cassettes are packaged with the old artwork covered in duct tape with the artist’s name and the word “recycled” scrawled across it in sharpie. noise scholar david novak explains in his book Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (duke university press 2013):

Some Noise labels record new releases over discarded copies of commercial cassettes. The RRRecycled series, for example, was created by dubbing new recordings by Noise artists over random cassettes by pop megastars (e.g., REO Speedwagon). As part of a series of “cheap Noise,” RRRecycled tapes are reproduced on misaligned recording decks, and ghostly echoes of the original tracks seep up through the imprinted layers of Noise. Faint traces of Mötley Crüe can be heard beneath the blasts of sound on a Masonna recording, or the tail end of a track by Cher will suddenly pop up at the end of a tape by Burning Star Core. Of course, any Noise recording, too, could easily be dubbed over and erased by something else. The cassette calls out to the listener’s judgment, to decide whether this particular thing contains something singular and beautiful, or something cheap and disposable. pp. 218-219

as novak points out, the physical form of the dubbed cassette reminds the listener that they are participating in a network of people including the artist, the record label, the distributor (in this case those are both lessard), and themselves. given the option, the listener can listen to the noise, record over it themselves, become inspired to buy a cher cassette and record over that, or just throw the thing in the trash—but whatever they choose, they are making aesthetic choices within an independent consumer/artist network.

the rrrecycled series has its own contentious history, as does most everything in the world of noise music (“Noise Beef: Any kind of dispute between two or more members of the noise scene. A common beef is over people who don't mail merch they have sold” via noisewiki. scroll through what should be a straightforward glossary for some pleasantly self-derogatory examples of the animosity in the scene). the most notable is the release by the gerogerigegege, which consists of cambodian pop songs rather than original music by the band. this is supposedly the only release that lessard deleted and refused to distribute (but which you can hear here). except that harsh noise group cementimental claims that THEIR recycled release was also deleted by rrron “during the time of the great Troniks forum meltdown” (you can read about that event by searching “troniks” on the noisewiki if you’re interested).

the point is that it’s incredibly difficult to navigate the world of noise, and purposefully so. beefs and counter-beefs proliferate and purity is at a premium. you don’t want to be labeled a “poseur” or a “baby” (again, check the wiki). and then there’s the music itself, which is, frankly, not good. downright unpleasant stuff. so i’ve made it my goal this week to dive into the rrrecycled music series and drudge up the stuff that is NOT bad—that is, hopefully, even good. rrrecycled tapes only cost $4, the idea being that you can send off for a few and find a new band to follow without too much risk. well i’ve reduced your risk to 0 by sorting through all the rrrecycled musics i could find online (some 30+, a fraction of the total) and presenting the best ones (still though if you have a cassette player you should buy a handful here to support ron, who seems like a genuinely nice guy).

note that in this case “best” means “most pleasing to me, and i have a headache already.” if you follow the newsletter you’ll have an idea of what i prioritize—tape music, ambient, musique concrète. i am admittedly not in the noise scene and don’t have any aspirations in that direction, but i hate to see music get overlooked because of the “difficult” reputation of its label. Below are four streaming rrrecycled releases and then a .mp3 album of four more.

Destroyed Music

destroyed music is ron lessard himself in collaboration with dutch improviser and graphomaniac frans de waard. lessard records as emil beaulieau and de waard records as kapotte muziek, which translates to “broken music.” lessard destroyed a few kapotte muziek records (the liner notes don’t say how, but it sounds like a lot of scratching) and recorded those for an lp on the freak animal label. de waard took those recordings and used them for his own album called Burn Books, Not Coal. lessard took the lp and destroyed it AGAIN for this “recycled music.” so you have already “broken music” which was destroyed, recorded, destroyed again and recorded again for this release. i think. anyhow, it’s a constantly shifting piece that is, like any destroyed piece of vinyl, staticky and repetitive. the most obvious reference points are maria chavez’s Plays Stefan Goldmann’s Ghost Hemiola and christian marclay’s Record Without a Cover, but the collaboration between lessard and de waard mark it as less a rumination on the nature of vinyl than on the back-and-forth making and remaking of sounds within the rrrecycled series itself and the noise scene as a whole.

Aaron Dilloway

these days aaron dilloway is mainly known for playing with his chickens but before he achieved fame as the leading purveyor of poultrycore he was in wolf eyes and then of course had a wildly successful solo career which i assume he will return to at some point. also he runs the great hanson records. his entry into the rrrecycled series is classic dilloway in that it consists of goofy, bouncy, convoluted figures in static but unlike his “major statement” albums like The Gag File he makes no attempt at transforming these figures into song-length chunks. he just lets them play out for 27 minutes at a time, which makes the experience less like listening to an album than trying to make sense of what’s happening on your detuned radio. it really is great, especially the last 6 or so minutes of side one.

Tuluum Shimmering

tuluum shimmering is actually a british fellow named jake webster—i’m not sure why he uses the name and iconography of an ancient mayan port city. he’s recently gotten some attention because of his extremely long covers of songs like “a horse with no name” and “sister ray” done in quarantine. anyhow, his drones sound particularly good on the lo-fidelity dubbed cassette format, and the 30ish minutes per side ensures that he has room to spread out and let the listener let their mind wander. here, side one is your standard new age tranceout (though done quite well), but side two is the standout—wild feedback tendrils reach toward the sky out of a persistent grounded hum.

Brume

one of the many many projects of the french composer christian renou, who from the mid-80s to the mid-10s has put out dozens of releases on the darker side of sound collage. this is one of the most bizarre entries in the series, ranging from dancy synth-rave to smooth lounge on side one to creepy industrial atmospherics on side two. though the sounds themselves are as different from one another as they can be, they all add up to a coherently gloomy mood.


TIBTR Guide to RRRecycled Music

Here is an .mp3 album of four select rrrecycled releases. 8 tracks (obviously)! 2.5 hours! Here’s what’s included—it transitions from least to most noisy, or inversely, most to least chill:

  • Omit: this entry from clinton williams begins with a lovely drone and ends with a british couple having dinner. this is all it takes to be by far my favorite in the series.

  • Xper.Xr: xper.xr (prounounced “crisper”) is one of the earliest and most singular experimental artists to come out of hong kong. listening to side a is like ceding control of the radio dial to someone who you deeply love, but who hates all music except for minnie riperton’s “loving you.” you’ll uhh, see what i mean when you listen. side b is much more aurally aggressive.

  • Little Princess: this release tilts way toward the noisier end of the spectrum, but with a little repetitive melody that goes “wha wha wha whaaaaa-wha” that i swear somehow gets stuck in your head. it goes through all 43 minutes, on top of a barrage of otherwise unlistenable noise. wha wha wha whaaaa-wha. i love it.

  • John Wiese: the great john wiese of sissy spacek and bastard noise needs no introduction, but this rrrecycled release is one his lesser known. if you, like me, shy away from pure noise but are interested in dipping your toe in the water, then let this play through the final tracks to hear his entry.

alright, so go listen to that and also buy a cassette or two from rrron. rrready, set, go!