The Silverman: Blank For Your Own Message
Beta-lactam Ring Records

Akai Ikuo: Language Without Words
Beta-lactam Ring Records

Ariel Kalma: Les Temps des Moissons
Beta-lactam Ring Records

Three diverse offerings from Beta-lactam Ring Records, a Portland, Oregon-based label specializing in experimental “outsider” music by artists like Nurse With Wound, Current 93, and others. The label's musical offerings are distinctive but the packaging deserves mention too, with considerable attention paid to each release's presentation (e.g., the choice of durable book-bound cases over standard cardboard)—labours of love, no doubt.

The exotic collage constructions comprising Blank For Your Own Message, The Silverman's (Nijmegen, Netherlands-based Philip Knight, also a member of The Legendary Pink Dots, Mimir, and The Tear Garden) so-called “Zen Opera in Seven Parts,” make it very easy for the listener to fill in the blank canvas shown on the release's font cover. The recording often sounds like a performance by a child's mechanical orchestra specializing in Javanese gamelan and drone musics. Assembled into an uninterrupted forty-four-minute travelogue, the material pulsates with field recordings (market noises, horse hooves, cowbells, public address announcements), clockwork rhythms, and picturesque textural design. Along the way, you'll hear subtly convulsive drones, gyroscopic rhythms, and undulating voices, spend a night serenaded by croaking noises next to a forest pond, and experience peyote-fueled hallucinations in the African desert.

Akai Ikuo plays over forty instruments on Language Without Words, an eclectic outing that finds the Tokyo-based musician indulging in an explorative jazz style that occasionally calls to mind the electric music-making of Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis (Squarepusher's Music Is Rotted One Note might be a more recent analogue). Squeezing twelve pieces into thirty minutes means that some will be short and, true enough, five are under two minutes. Ikuo's “harmolodic” approach sounds at times like he's channeling Coleman's Prime Time; certainly the third track (it's titled “Red Hot Noodle” on the sleeve but identified as “Copycat” on the disc, and because there's also a discrepancy between the ten tracks listed on the package and the twelve on the disc, I'll eschew identifying track titles to avoid confusion) traffics in the free-flowing funk-jazz style of Dancing in Your Head and Body Meta, and the fourth weds ghostly Ornette sax playing to spindly guitar lines in a manner reminiscent of Virgin Beauty and Tone Dialing; the electronic psychedelia of the fifth piece, on the other hand, could blend easily into On The Corner. One track even merges steel drum playing with sax and techno beats while a fleeting sampling of guitar-based blues inexplicably rears its head elsewhere. Language Without Words is the first album to be released outside of Japan by Ikuo who's, apparently, a legend of sorts in the Tokyo underground scene and able to “play any instrument, anywhere, anytime.”

The Ariel Kalma disc's the real find of the three, however. Recorded in 1975, Le Temps des Moissons (his first album) appears on CD for the first time with two pieces added to the original's three. After Kalma journeyed to India and learned about modal music and singing, he attempted to fuse ancient and modern sounds and techniques by applying various electronic effects to his sax playing. (On the original album, Kalma persuaded the pressing engineer to loop the groove at the end of side two to produce a theoretically endless loop that the listener could let play for hours.) He's joined by guests on electric guitar and Hajouj (djonkoloni) on “Bakafrica” where a constantly changing tempo is intended to mimic a camel crossing the desert. The 1974 piece is a loose funky jam whose pairing of sax and percussion can't help but call to mind the “Midnight Sunrise” sessions Ornette recorded with the Moroccan ensemble the Master Musicians of Jajouka (issued on Dancing in Your Head). The short “Fast Road to Nowhere” gets its exotic feel from a combination of wordless vocalizing, bamboo flute, and Jews harp. The album's most noteworthy pieces, however, are the seventeen-minute drones that open and close it. Using a delay feedback effect in the sprawling “Le Temps des Moissons” and “Reternelle,” staggered tenor saxophones hypnotically coil around one another, a shadowing effect Kalma also deploys in the trippy “Voyage Reternelle” where his sax wails over a pulsating rhythm base.

August 2008