Published May 19, 2009The cover art gracing Gregg Kowalsky's latest drone epic for Kranky appears to depict sound waves emanating from two sources lying across from each other. In this case, cover mirrors content: the sounds found on Tape Chants are derived from a series of live events in which prepared cassettes were played from boom boxes scattered throughout the performance space. As one of these performances progressed, the levels of the different sources would be manipulated, effectively creating a singular experience for the audience. Having removed the third dimension from play by creating an artefact that produces repeatable results, Kowalsky has managed to reinterpret, rather than flatten, the source material. Tape Chants is alive with a drone that's bursting with a surprising level of texture and ornament. Like a large ocean under siege by a storm, the sound literally roils, froths and bubbles, its unique energy barely contained. At times, the drone becomes almost rhythmic, pulsating like a slowly beating heart. The addition of piano and other percussive elements causes roots to develop, pulling Kowalsky's ululations back into the soft earth of the appreciable. This singular vision is lent a sense of warmth by the inclusion of such recognizable sounds.
My music has always had psychoacoustic elements, live and recorded. There is so much going on under the surface with harmonics and overtones; I think it has been a natural progression to work with multiple tape players in a space. I have always tried to create sound environments whereupon with each listen you could hear something new.
What do you find that you've gained or lost by "normalizing" the performance aspect of Tape Chants down to a single, solitary sound source?
The original idea for this album was to keep it extremely lo-fi, only using the cassettes for the sound sources. As I started production on the album, I would have the tapes playing in the studio and I would start adding instruments and synths to the cassette material. Mixing cassettes with studio recordings created completely new and different acoustic spaces, so I decided to explore that. I also used aspects of tape collage in the performances - some of the tapes are cut-up, hard edits. This album is a culmination of all of the different versions of Tape Chants and cassette experiments from the past two years. I look at it as companion to the live performances. (Kranky)