Gaseous Acolyte / a body without organs / Vomir / [Untitled] – “Untitled Four Way” [Small Worm, 2020]

Gaseous Acolyte / abodywithoutorgans / Vomir / [Untitled]
Untitled Four Way
[Small Worm, 2020]

Small Worm is a small-batch tape label directed by James Shearman, a multi-disciplinary artist based in the United Kingdom, which focuses on “experiments, mishaps, rummaging, field recording, grievous chaotic din, rabble-rousing, wall noise, Styx ferryman whistling tunes, children’s rhymes in dead languages, animal mating calls, number station remixes and anything else.” A heady list but one that certainly speaks to the role Mr. Shearman has accidentally taken as one of harsh noise wall’s most important archivists, mentors, theorists, and practitioners.

November 23rd sees an inaugural batch dispersed from his Small Worm garden in 2020. Mostly swimming in the dirt of obscure, challenging, but surprisingly densely-populated genres like hnw, ambient noise wall, and obsessive expressions of maxi-minimalism, the conundrum Small Worm and countless other devoted net/tape labels often face is an effective way to synthesize these vastly varying areas of interest, intention, study, and sound into consumable servings for the general public. Luckily, with a 4-way split included in this latest bucketful, we have a splendid sample size to do the trick.

Side A begins with a near ten minute piece from Gaseous Acolyte, a mysterious but benevolent side-project courtesy of James himself. The track is mostly static and unmoving, which will satisfy the purists that Shearman’s discography constantly terrorizes, but the breadth of sound within the core of this wall is, perhaps obviously, more subtly shaped and sculpted than the Vomir wall that mirrors it on Side B. Here, the body of the wall is rounded, contained, almost perceivable, spilling over edges – and then seemingly it stretches out or falls forever. It makes me consider the way my lungs have a certain capacity, yet I would not have the first idea of how to measure or quantify it for you here. I bring breath into my body, and within me it is within every part of me I know of, but I can’t speak much more to it than that.

Gaseous Acolyte’s side reads to me like a long book that was gently opened, it’s pages intact and, invariably, beyond or behind us. This is a characteristic of a lot of the wall noise I enjoy. There’s a sensation of open-ended storytelling between the listener and the performer. Flapping lazily in a breeze, the obscured implication of narrative juxtaposes the finality of the sonic product we are often gifted in the genre. A wall. Vomir’s distillation of finality doesn’t seek to juxtapose, however, and fuck all if it inspires someone like me to write at such length about it in the first place. If there’s one thing Vomir’s music seeks to invalidate, it’s intention. Rather than opening a book for us, Vomir hands us torn out pages, and we are to be thankful at that. 

Regardless of ethos, both of the walls are immense. Gaseous at times gives the impression of synthesis, with moments, textures, and tones resembling wind, burning fire, and the gentle rumble of moving earth bringing to mind some massive ash borer many miles away, deep and working. Vomir is suffocating to a similar effect but by more direct means. 15 minutes of gunmetal harsh noise wall. There is the hint of some dynamic source underneath directing the movement of the piece, rattling, submissive to its terrible motion. It comes very close to breaking out of the massive blanket of distortion that is Vomir’s signature, but the brutal violence of the wall ultimately manages to contain it, eventually suffocating it of all movement. 

This totality in the two true wall pieces on the split is beautifully emphasized and also completely transformed with the inclusion of a body without organs’ material, the three pieces which finish Side A. Contrasting beautifully with the relaxing “immersion” wall Gaseous employed, abwoo, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, manages to hold its own in a harsh noise wall release despite being a far more experimental and collage-driven project (and also without organs).

The three tracks here alter the emotional trajectory of the release as a whole, introducing warped space age samples of garbled German public-service-announcements, dial-up tones, and some beautifully subtle drones that barely commit to existing at all, to name a few. The second movement is the highlight of the split, and represents a sort of deconstructed wall approach which gives the tape a much needed sense of urgency and adventurousness. Rather than a plateau of sound, abwoo gives us a roaring river; glitched pulses of massive feedback, oscillating, sharp warnings of sine waves and careening anthemic harsh noise. It’s ultimately relaxing, surprisingly, massaging my ears with a heavy and confident low-end that bounces my headphones dreamily on the surface of the hood I have pulled over my head. It’s like some as-seen-on-tv relaxation device I find in the back aisles of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. One that has been fucked beyond all belief by the sticky hands of children, corrosive cleaning fluids, and rouge microwave signals. Relaxing, but oddly threatening, like a ball of light that you are terrified to touch for fear of shock or burn.

The final section on the split, “Open Content,” is a contribution from [Untitled], a project courtesy of Richard and Sean Ramirez-Matzus, two names synonymous with decades of legendary, genre-spanning experimental noise releases. Their track opens with some ambient noise wall not too unlike the precedent Gaseous established in the opener. It’s a continuation of the tape’s flirting with some of the more quiet “immersion” walls that are becoming a popular alternative to the “play it fucking loud” status quo of the harsh noise wall scene. It’s still quite distorted though, especially when cranked, and eventually, in classic Ramirez form, industrial source makes its way into frame, complimenting the cold dead pre-amp static that is the foundation with haunting repetitions of wheezing, whining, scraping, and applications of pressure on perhaps a large metal object. All in all, the [Untitled] quarter of this tape is another essential moment, similar to abwoo’s, both being a clever divergence from the rigidity of noise wall that, without it, would otherwise make this tape a more sneakily grueling listen.

Instead, this split is a telling document of what makes Shearman and his curation such an enigmatic force. He manifests a distinct intersection of war-hardened veterans and isolated and fearless experimentalists and summarily injects them with his own unassuming, unpretentious, and rather humanistic approach to wall noise. This tape is successful because it is willed by a genuine sense of discipline, but not afraid to be vulnerable and forego convention. Classic worm. Here’s to many more.

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