The Bureau of Nonstandards: The Bureau of Nonstandards

Forty-eight minutes of challenging electronic-oriented improvisations from The Bureau of Nonstandards (aka collaborators Kevin C. Smith and Maurice Rickard) that's best experienced as a headphones listen. All fifteen pieces originated from live improvisations the duo recorded at various venues in Pittsburgh during 2007-08, with no processing or overdubs added following the performances. The group's modus operandi involves Smith running his circuit-bent toys and keyboards (Texas Instruments Speak & Spell and Speak & Read, Casio SK-1 and PT-10, Power Gear Voice Changer, Milton Bradley Mall Madness, et al.) through Rickard's live laptop processing, with the results ranging from alien noise workouts (“Dropping the Kilogram”) to fractured IDM meltdowns (“Island”). “Untitled 1” definitely holds one's attention by pairing intersecting pathways of piano and sputtering electronics with atonal stabs and corroded interjections, as does “Cockpit of Dreams” with its combustible meander of aggressive rhythm patter, sci-fi fragments, and distorted noise spikes. Much of the album's material resembles the kind of recorded documents of alien life-forms conspiracy theorists contend the US government's been withholding from the public for decades. In many tracks, the garbled chatter of extraterrestrial organisms appears alongside decayed piano lines and the convulsive sputter of overdriven machinery while staccato rhythm patterns act as stabilizing anchors. Not all of it succeeds—“Attention All Shoppers” is marred by a too-obvious store announcement voice sample, and “Untitled 5” is dominated by annoying voice treatments that suggest the babble of android babies—but the duo's propensity for bold and uncompromising exploration generally rewards one's attention.

April 2009