Spaces: Tasting Menu and Tarab

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Sometimes you can’t help but hear things the wrong way. I first put this on by mistake, having thought I’d cued up Booker T. & The MG’s. I’ve had worse surprises and stuck out the whole thing. Stand closer when you have something to say is a new release on Mappa, that Slovakian cassette label – the description sounds agonisingly hipsterish, albeit less so the closer you get to Slovakia. The band here, however, is Tasting Menu, a trio from Los Angeles: Cassia Streb, Cody Putman and Tim Feeney. Their instrument is their studio (the room, that is; not some old Eno adage): concrete floors, fire doors. If you’ve been to live gigs of this sort of music you’re already picturing the venue in your head.

Two separate sessions are recorded here, made a couple of weeks apart, basically group improvisations for found objects and abraded percussion. Long swatches of varying grain and textures, verging on sound sculpture. They apparently worked over the room systematically and that constraint helps greatly in making this a much more compelling musical experience than simple indulgent noisemaking. Heard live, you’d want it loud and all-engulfing; as audio (or cassette) it works surprisingly well even if not fully cranked. The middle part of the first track is particularly effective as the soundworld veers away from the expected and stays for an ominously long time. Maybe it shouldn’t have moved on – instruments appear at the end of each track. The opening of the second track adds deep ambient tones and ends with a jumbled mass of distant extraneous noise from the street outside. Then there is, inevitably, a sax.

More site recordings appear in HOLES, a similarly recent recording by the Melbourne musician Tarab on his promisingly named Sonic Rubbish label. The term ‘space’ takes on multiple meanings here, with the material making up these collages comprising “sounds borrowed from various rooms, the things that happened in them, and those that come in from outside.” As soon as it starts, it stops again: abrupt silences permeate all five tracks. Spaces open up inside other spaces. Sometimes, the scene shifts without warning. Percussive room ambience is displaced by sparse electronic beeps, TV transmissions, digital interference. Longeurs of liminal acoustics isolate sonic events, rendering them inexplicable. I’ve only just played this once and what’s got me more excited than usual here is the compositional nous at work that not only gives the captured sounds a shape and a point, but also asks questions both of the listener and the materials. HOLES never takes its contents for granted and replaces the complacent trust of an “authentic” musician in their tools with a probing skepticism that renders dull questions of aural representation moot. Here, all meaning is in the mediation.