ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: Death Tape Super Bass, Citizen 2-13, Chamber of Knives, J. Mollerskov, Steve Schlei, Lorna Dune, Tampertamper, Pleasure Thief
Noise label/concert promoter FTAM hosted a massive noise showcase in the backyard of X-Ray Arcade Sunday afternoon. Sets from Death Tape Super Bass, Citizen 2-13, Chamber of Knives, J. Mollerskov, Steve Schlei, Lorna Dune, Frenia, TamperTamper, and Pleasure Thief all took place. We got to talk to each and every one of them – except Frenia, since we spotlighted them before. Brace yourself; there’s many to get to know.
Death Tape Super Bass is the experimental noise project of Alex Steinmetz. Originally from Chicago, he has been making noise for about nine years. He explains where the project name came from.
“I think I was just messing with the idea of pretense before a project, and there were lots of bands that tried to sound super serious, so I tried to find something that sounded kind of serious but also cartoon-y and intense all at the same time.”
His latest full-length album “Super Bass” came out in July.
“That was me messing around with my new drum machine; I was doing more beat-driven stuff…I really like rhythm box sounds so it got me playing with that. I’m always trying different processes and this process happened to be a lot of multi-tracking that I don’t normally do; I normally do more improvising.”
Following that he released the “Tornado Country” EP this past month.
“It came together because I was thinking about how field recordings always get ruined by wind, and so it kind of led me to think about tornadoes and tornado chasers and how tornado sirens instill a certain amount of danger and fear into us out of practical reasons. It’s like an audio device that’s very old that has been serving the same function for a long time.”
Finally, Steinmetz shares what he’s working on now.
“Right now I’m slowly putting together an album, in the very early stages. I’m experimenting with some stuff. Nothing’s quite concrete together but we’ll see. I’m really interested in the idea of unlocked doors in suburban homes and the idea of safety.”
Citizen 2-13 is the harsh noise project of Matt Michuda. He’s been doing noise for a little over ten years but has been making music in general for longer than that. He explains the project name.
“M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and my initials are MM. At the time when I came up with it I was very into dystopic government stuff…hence the “citizen”…and I figured the moniker kind of fit for noise.”
Toward the end of last year he released an album called “End2020.”
“Well, it was a tough year for pretty much everyone with the pandemic and whatnot. The year was ending and I wanted to put out a release; it’s got some harsh tracks but it’s also got some nice tracks on it too. It’s kind of a mixture of all the feelings everybody’s been having. At least that’s what I tried to incorporate.”
He tells us what he’s been working on since then.
“I have a split in the works with J. Randall right now…just been waiting on things with the label. Other than that I don’t have any planned releases at the moment. The most recent thing I did was a compilation of Milwaukee noise artists called “Milwaukee Noise Punks: Vol. 2″ and this time it was with Mommy, Dan of Earth, The Smudge, and myself. It’s a 90 minute tape…all acts got 22 minutes of material.”
Finally, he describes a metal sheet instrument prominently used in his set.
“It’s an old metal parts box that I had a custodian put two contact mics that I could run out of it, and it’s also got a spring running through it, and then the metal piece is part of an aluminum printing plate.”
Chamber of Knives, formerly known as The.HollowForm, is the death-industrial power electronics project of Adam Johansson. The project is about two years old total; he explains the name change.
“I played a show right before it got really bad with COVID, and I had been wrestling with changing the name right when things were opening back up. I had switched up all my gear and coming at what I was doing with a different approach. It’s a new world; my sound completely changed. I found “Chamber of Knives” in a book – “The Spectacle of the Void” – it’s like a horror-philosophy book.”
Before he rebranded he dropped an EP called “My Nemesis” in January.
“It was about a period of my life. It wasn’t directed at someone but it was just about that particular time and how I processed and got over it. The project started from the idea that if I didn’t go through that event, I wouldn’t have actually probably done electronic music at all, so it was kind of the catalyst.”
Johansson shares what’s next for Chamber of Knives.
“So I make more music than I record, and to tell you the truth I’m a really busy dude as far as work and stuff so it’s definitely a labor of love. I love doing it but it takes a lot out of me, especially because it’s electronic and you’re dealing with some pretty aggressive noise. Dealing with all that can be really draining, but soon enough, expect more when the time’s right.”
J. Mollerskov is an electronic-ambient artist who is also a teacher. He talked to us about his music philosophy.
“My definition of music that I give to my students is organized sound. I think that applies to noise or classical music or anything else. An example I give to them is if the wind blows two garbage cans down the street it’s not music, but if I decide to roll them down the street it is. There’s a certain amount of intention but you’re also letting go of something in that case. To me that’s sometimes the most exciting music to perform and to listen to, whether it be noise or other improvised music. There’s that element of that natural conversation between you and your instruments or you and other performers.”
Last year he released an album called “Ghost Road.”
“When the quarantine started, I like a lot of people got super depressed. I scrambled to move as many students as I could to online lessons…that’s my main source of income…and I spent the rest of my time laying around on the futon watching Netflix. That was when I started playing around and recording some things, and it really helped me resurface. In particular with those, there were three instruments I picked up right around quarantine, and they’re these beautiful wooden Ciat-Lonbarde instruments with colorful banana jacks. The album is completely done with those. I used a little set of chimes to record into the looper on it, but they don’t sound like chimes, and it was a fun way to explore those. I’ve always hated titling my music; titles in a lot of ways for me are afterthoughts. I got into this habit of naming my music after constellations and different stellar bodies, and these days that feels a bit stale to me. I started looking at what different stellar bodies and constellations were referred to in other cultures, and “Ghost Road” is the translation of the Native American name for the stars. Every title on there is either a translation of a constellation in some other language or its taking bits and pieces of those and throwing it together.”
He shares what’s to come from him in the next few months.
“I am just finishing recording an album of solo ambient music. I’m really happy with how this one is turning out. The other project I’ve been working on is a duo project with a good friend of mine Jamie Breiwick; he and I went to high school and college together…a lot of our first professional gigs were together for several years. We were first getting into the Milwaukee scene as jazz artists and we’ve been a little more out of touch in recent years; we both just have our own things going on, but he’s one of my best and oldest friends at this point. I reconnected with him during the pandemic; he’s recording trumpet clips and I’m taking those as sound source and generating a bunch of background material from those, and then he’s recording more over that. Then I’m taking those and then glitching them out some more. I would say we’re about a third to halfway done with that. It comes and goes in spurts depending on our schedules. That’ll hopefully be done by the end of the year.”
Steve Schlei is a harsh noise artist who easily had one of the most jarring sets of the day. He shares a bit about his inception into the noise scene.
“I feel like somewhat of a newbie in the community. I come from more of an academic, experimental sound world so I’ve always been making out-there sounds; I’ve never really felt at home with more traditional music and always gravitated toward synthesizers. Through Peter Woods’ shows I’ve gotten more and more involved in it. I really love the scene and the sounds – all of it.”
He does not currently have releases out under his own name.
“I’ve collaborated with other people and done releases through them but I don’t have any solo work yet. Unfortunately I’ve been finishing a research project with ancient tuning systems and weird Greek stuff so I haven’t done as much music as I’d like to in the past decade honestly. Once that’s done I’d love to go back to programming Macs with the synthesizers I was working on.”
He actually played his set using an app on an iPad.
“The app I’m using was programmed by my brother; it’s called TC-11. I use it basically to do additive synthesis; I’m working with sign tones and building the timbres as I go. It’s neat because I can blend in anything and create any sound with my fingers. It’s very intuitive and plays like a real instrument. You tilt it to adjust volume so you can get super expressive with it.”
Lorna Dune is an experimental-ambient-electronic artist originally from the Milwaukee area, but she moved around a lot in recent years. She returned here in the last year.
“This was my first post-quarantine show so I’m really excited. I think we all are in need of some noise in our lives – a cleansing, healing, searing way to express what we’ve all been feeling. After Milwaukee fifteen years ago I moved to Brooklyn – particularly Bushwick – and there was a really awesome scene happening around there…a lot of indie kids and experimental stuff and so many venues that were supporting it. So I was there for about ten years, and then I moved to the West Coast in Portland for about five years – really great scene there too. I’m hoping to bring some of those kids here once things open up more. Now I’ve just been laying low and writing music in the studio.”
She released a single called “Pandora’s Promise” last October.
“A lot of the themes in my music are about feminism and how to express rage and embrace melody as a woman who likes to make noise. But also I think about climate change a lot, and so “Pandora’s Promise” was a contemplation on what the world would look like if we relied on nuclear energy with the qualms around that, and thinking about what sort of world we’d be in if the atomic bomb was never created. It’s sort of this balance between possibility and destruction.”
About a month later she released the single “Fission Folly.”
“It’s along the same lines, getting really molecular and trying to embody atoms being split apart for the use of power, and contemplating it in a sonic way.”
Lastly, she shares what she’s working on now.
“I just played the first side of a new tape that’s coming out from this ambient-experimental label in Detroit called “Sounds of the Dawn.” I’m really excited about it; it’s called “The Natta” which means the Hindu concept of dissolution of ego, so it’s actually the sonic story of an ego dissolving into its natural landscapes and then escalating into the ether, like what the world would be like if we relied a little bit less on this capitalist idea of self. I still have to figure out how to play side B live (laughs).”
TamperTamper is the experimental noise project of Ira Jackson. She’s been playing with the medium for roughly five years, starting when she was a sophomore at MIAD. This was her first live performance.
“I’ve been having these really potent anxiety waves where I’ll be watching somebody play and be into it, but then I have this moment where I remember that I have to play and it’ll be this whole body anxiety. Right before I was about to go on, Frenia played and when they ended I got one big one because it was my turn, but from then till now I’ve actually been totally fine. It was weird because the time I was playing usually goes by pretty quickly, but this time it didn’t feel that fast; it felt like the amount of time that it was, which was about eleven minutes.”
She explains where “TamperTamper” came from.
“I was on a random word generator and I found the word “tamper” and I had it on a list of other random words I liked. The meaning I find in it is I like the sort of whisper to it; when I’m making music I’m literally just tampering with things…picking up my tapes, putting them back down, switching them out, playing with the knobs and volumes.”
Her most recent album “Because; Lately” came out this past March.
“Pretty much all the full albums I’ve released have followed the same structure, where I just live my life for a while and I do audio recordings of whatever is in my life whether it be people, experiences, or a melody that I come with. Then I’ll go back through the last few months – since the last album that I made- and take everything from then that I like. Some things are unedited and some things I’ll put into GarageBand. Pretty much all the decisions I make with my art, whether it be audio or visual, is really just in the moment. “Because; Lately” as a phrase is a descriptor for life being this way because it is this way right now. Then I added the semicolon to emphasize that concept; everything in life is happening right now because of everything leading up to now.”
FTAM will be publishing TamperTamper’s next album whenever it comes out. Get excited.
The ninth and final performer of the day was Pleasure Thief, the experimental/avant-garde project of Cat Ries. Their set consisted of wordless chants against a gong, both gradually getting louder.
“I’m grateful to be performing with so many really amazing musicians and also just really grateful to be at a show again. It’s really exciting. I thought it would feel more strange than it does to go back to shows but it doesn’t. It feels right.”
Pleasure Thief has been a project for about eight years. Ries explains how the project’s sound and format has transformed over time.
“It’s changed a lot to what it is now. It used to be dark synth ambient R&B-type music and more melodic with structure and rhythm. I still make music like that but what it is now is just more ambient. Vocal channeling is what I’ve been calling it because I don’t plan it at all or even practice actually. The only other time I’ve done this same setup at was at the Snag release show two months ago, and that was the first time I ever tried playing gong and singing at the same time. I had a feeling that it was gonna work really well. Being able to play in this way is cathartic and I like not having to worry about words because I’m not deciding beforehand what I want to say; I’m just letting it come out in the moment as it’s happening.”
Their last album was 2019’s “Cthonios.”
“Part of my style is just spontaneous creation, so there’s only two songs and they’re about ten minutes long each. One has lyrics and is like a devotional song kind of about how really intense experiences can transform us in powerful ways, and then the other song is just vocal melodies. Both of them were written as I was recording them, so the song with the lyrics I came up with as I was singing it, which blew my mind even!”
Ries shares what’s to come with Pleasure Thief in the future.
“I think after tonight’s set, with the way it’s going, I want to try and maybe record an album with this setup and see what happens.”