March 2013

A Mountain of Music

Kevin Drumm in 2012
By Mark Flaum

The recreationalpanick blog initially appeared some time in 2009. I first took note in March when an album-length unedited version of Organ (off the 2000 album Comedy) was posted. Around the same time there was a rip of Malaise that purported to be better sounding than the tape. This should have been enough of a giveaway, but it wasn’t until January 1st 2010 that the perpetrator of the blog became evident to me: Kevin Drumm released Lights Out to the general public before even finding a label.

This all occurred after a series of releases for Hospital Records and at the same time as a major round of significant Drumm reissues: his self-titled album on vinyl and cd, Sheer Hellish Miasma on vinyl, Impish Tyrant given its first wide release… even the rare Second was repressed by the Perdition Plastics label. Perhaps the most significant of these releases was the Necro Acoustic box, collecting not only all the material originally released digitally from recreationalpanick but also significant new and rare archival material along with some fresh recordings, released on Lasse Marhaug’s Pica Disc label.

Also around this time, documentation of Drumm’s collaborative work with Tom Smith (of To Live and Shave in LA) began to emerge. They released a duo on Savage Land (the title Reconquer Sleep or Disappear finds its way to my mind rather often) and Smith also released a Drumm solo double-album (Obstacles of Romantic Exaggeration) and 4 collaborative efforts: two duo albums, a remix album, and a 5 cd-r + DVD set documenting their short European tour.

In 2011 Drumm issued his first project on Warsaw’s Bocian Records, the 7” Wrestling with Jérôme Noetinger and Robert Piotrowicz.. More significantly, though: Drumm put out what I believe were his first self-released cdrs and tapes – Don’t Ask, Gybberish, and the Blank tape. These were only available via recreationalpanick, and while the label name Consumer Pile was attached to two of them, by the time Gybberish emerged that label had apparently been abandoned. The Electronic Harrassment tape was announced, but did not appear in 2011.

So that’s the back story for what I want to talk about. Just before Christmas in 2011 came an announcement on recreationalpanick that started a year-long creative outburst that spawned a massive brick of music that is varied, substantial, and mostly excellent. The vast range of styles, sounds, and media is hard to fathom. This output includes many new recordings but also some older material which Drumm has reworked and reconsidered (and even remixed). What I want to convey in this article isn’t just the volume of material, you can glean that from browsing discogs. And I can’t convey the quality of it either, I can tell you about how it makes me feel but I can’t tell you how you’ll feel without trapping you here in my living room and making you listen and tell me (not promising I won’t!). But what I want to accomplish here is to wrap some words about the breadth of this work, how wide it sounds and how far it reaches. I want to try to convince you that Kevin Drumm, in the year 2012, created a body of work that will continue to daunt listeners and other artists for decades.

So on Christmas Eve 2011, under the heading Seasons Beatings, Drumm announced the release of two 3-cdr sets. The first of these is entitled Blast of Silence, referencing a noir from 1961 but a more accurate name would be hard to propose. Played over speakers in a room that isn’t close to silent, the music disappears into a tense, uncomfortable feeling. Eventually the listener might identify the whisper-quiet, high-pitched drone that beats gently at the edge of hearing. Headphones can reveal more features but keep the volume low or it might start to hurt. The first disc, with the title Blast of Silence 1 printed on its long red sleeve, is just oven an hour of a nearly static drone. It sounds to me like two sine waves, one fixed and the other drifting across it gently to create beats, loud moments, and complete silence. I feel like they might be the same pitch out of phase but I don’t know enough about human audition, and I’m not sure the ear works like that.

The second disc, sheathed in pattern-printed yellow and named in order as Blast of Silence 2, is lower in tone and as such nearly undetectable in my noisy living room. I hear a plane pass and cars going by, but I can’t hear the low rumbling until I put the volume most of the way up. On headphones, it’s a similar story except I can feel the headphones rattling against my head. It’s a bizarre feeling, like a stealth helicopter hovering nearby that I can only detect by vibration. Again the volume of the stuttering near-silence rises and withdraws, but I feel the rhythm in what might be steady pulses. There’s a high pitch in here eventually as well, sort of an electronic hum that brings to mind the quiet hiss of an older television. Midway through, something begins to throb slightly low, internalizing the helicopter beat from the first half as the slow death of a fluorescent light bulb deep in my skull. Again the retreat to silence, though at high volume the rumbling hiss is audible once more.

The third cd has a new name and a sleeve to match: That Dull Black Again. This track does away with the near-stasis of the other two in favor of a far-away almost animal muttering or calling. These muted sounds eventually recede to silence, only to be replaced by a series of gentle single tones. By halfway through there are moments where the two exist together, providing some of the more overtly beautiful moments of the full set. In the last third, near-inaudibility is abandoned in favor of a steady dark drone colored with digital skips and sizzle. This too disappears, or perhaps drops in frequency back to the lower limits of audibility. The whole set seems related to ideas developed in the 2002 duo album with Lasse Marhaug (Frozen by Blizzard Winds), but nothing I can think of in Drumm’s catalog is so clearly focused on silence.

Announced in the same blog post, the 3-cd set I Have a Computer is far more varied and represents a very wide range of recording dates – apparently up to 15 years back. The first disc, in printed red paper (mine has a man on a gallows, but that could be unique), is 13 tracks of digital blippery, static, and noise. None of the tracks are individually titled, but particular standouts include the fourth track, a sparse and spacious clustering of small sounds, the 9th track of heavy low noise, and the domineering buzz synth drones of track 11. The bubbling landscape of track 7 is also quite compelling but disappointingly short. I suspect this disc encompasses the widest range of recording dates and generation techniques, but it’s all computer-based at the core so it’s really hard to say.

The second disc of the set, another yellow print, is called Arghh!, and it’s similarly varied – 8 tracks, most of them noisy but few of them similar to each other. The highlight for me is the final track, which repeatedly builds and collapses through harsh slabs of noise, stuttering synth buzz, piercing drone, and finally a chopping quasi-beat that gets hit by a bus of noise. I’m reminded of the Hanson cd Land of Lurches, which has similar intensity though it’s not so obviously digital.

The final piece of the computer music triad is the wonderfully titled Rotten 90’s Computer Music in black paper. This is possibly my favorite piece of either set, sustaining a cave dweller’s crawl through digital whisper and buzz for almost 70 minutes. While overtly digital, this piece has breath and movement. Sounds slither, hiss, and hide. The atmosphere grows heavier, the breathing wetter. Something continues to escape across the corner of the ear. I’m reminded of Xenakis, of science fiction nightmares, and of dirty, damp life.

Less than a month after the double triple cd set announcement came another multi-part release: the double cassette tape Dying Air. Unlike the previous two releases, this tape set is without electronics, all sounds acoustically generated. Dying Air feels to me like a single composition divided into four parts by the nature of the cassette form. It’s atmospheric, sparse, with great distances and long, echoing clangs. There’s also something narrative about it, with a moaning low squeal playing protagonist in an atmosphere of crumbling, collapsing, dragging emptiness. Both tapes are housed in a vinyl box, with a foggy, swampy photo on the cover. I notice just now looking at it that the title font is the same as the labels on the cd sets. Like most of the cds, there’s no indication about the perpetrator of the sound and the only information about the sound sources comes from recreationalpanick.

A week and a half later came the announcement of another cdr release – The Back Room, black print on black paper with an even more gothic font. Track titles and track times are also listed, though the tracks are just Back Room A-E. Another first for this release – recording data indicating that this is probably the first 2012 release actually recorded in 2012. It starts with three short tracks, each a small electronic storm buzzing with energy and occasional menace. They end abruptly, like Drumm just flipped the off switch and stepped away. The real power of the album comes from the fourth track, however – a drifting atmospheric piece growing into serious thunder, swarming and rumbling. There is patience here, a tempering to the crush which serves to amplify its strength – a descendent of Hitting the Pavement, the showpiece track from Sheer Hellish Miasma (2002). The final track is a more familiar slow-evolving noise edifice, gradually shifting through a number of thick and heavy textures, until the last part when the noise falls away into a more ambiguous atmosphere.

Barely another week passed before the next announcement – The Kitchen, a three-track cd-r in a white paper sleeve decorated with droplets of thick red paint by the young Freyja Drumm. This cdr included titles, a date, and even instrumentation: an accordion, a big muff pedal, a microphone, and computer assistance. According to a separate announcement the original accordion recordings date back to 1996, making this perhaps the earliest material Drumm released in 2012, but the processing and mastering are presumably more recent. The first piece is a textured drone that stays low and out of the way, feeling something like a train passing at substantial distance. The second track is more obviously accordion, a buzzing and layering build-up reminiscent of Birchville Cat Motel music in the sort of optimistic rise that builds almost imperceptibly over the nearly 30 minute piece. The last track is a quiet humming, gentle and distantly melodic. There is an abstract sadness to this as much as there was hope to the previous piece, making for a strangely satisfying balance. The recordings date to the same era as Drumm’s debut self-titled solo album on Perdition Plastics, and it’s easy to hear this as a revisitation of that music with more recent drone assemblages in mind. As hinted at above, some of this material will be reissued in different form on LP on Bocian Records in 2013.

Only three weeks would pass before the next release: The Whole House, a pair of tracks built from layered field recordings from around the Drumm household. The sleeve is again hand-painted white paper, less droplet oriented and with more greens and blacks. The first track is a claustrophobic buildup of droning, buzzing layers, on the verge of oppressive at times. The second has more activity to it, rising chunks of noise with a motoring destructive energy.

The next release announced was the Electronic Harassment project, recorded in 2011, long delayed by a major slowdown at the tape manufacturer, and eventually launched by the Cardinal Records label associated with the band Fossils. Originally conceived as a one-per-month cassette series, the delays resulted in one cassette and one cd-r finally seeing release. Electronic Harassment, the cassette, features a first side of gentle electronic sizzle drone that is just high-pitched enough to be discomfiting. The second side is more aggressive, switching between an unnerving tittering and a pushy low rumble. There are no track separations listed on the tape but it feels like there are a few distinct approaches to the same theme on the second side. The final part is a tense alien drone that seems to rise slowly to fill the room. The cdr follow-up, with more art from Freyja Drumm, is entitled Electronic Harassment ii/iii. The two tracks on this disc take the harassment part of the title seriously – shrill, tense, stressful drones that seem static on a close listen but actually drift very slowly from piercing to more piercing. These might be the most difficult listen of the batch, but when I was driving drowsy I put the cd-r on in the car and there was suddenly no further risk of sleep. It’s also worth mentioning that the cdr lists some phenomenal track titles, but there are three titles for only 2 tracks. ‘Hear my stupid words and know that it is crazy talk’ is a really great title, though, so I’ll go ahead and believe that’s the second track.

Announced alongside the Electronic Harassment releases (this is early May by now) was another cdr, some ‘airy romantic bs’ under the title Twinkle Toes. And while this is clearly not Drumm’s first foray into the almost inaudible, this is a very different sort of quiet music. Gentle to the point of being fragile, the first track makes no attempt to force its way into the ear, disappearing easily into the room. I chose to follow the instructions from the back of the green, Freyja-painted sleeve (“play at low volume, don’t be a wuss by turning it up” in the same gothic type as most of the text and titles of the recreationalpanick releases thus far), but I did use headphones to be sure I was hearing music and not the sound of my living room. There’s a melodic character similar to the last part of The Kitchen, but its so soft and shy it’s hard to follow development. It’s easy to tell myself that the influences here are Taku Sugimoto or the Wandelweiser school of quiet music, but I think there’s as much of the soft pop-tronica of Mego or 12k in here as well. (the Drumm solo cd on Karl Schmidt Verlag included a track title entitled ‘This sounded like a bad Fennesz rip so I bagged it… until now’ so I suppose we’d been warned) The second track is less shy, with a windy undercarriage to the sound but distance, softness, and delicacy are still key.

A month later, the Moving double cassette was announced, apparently generated by 16 oscillators. It’s a set of heavily synthesized-feeling noise, buzzing and rumbling with lots of thick, rumbly textures and heavy momentum. Two hand-labeled tapes sit in a vinyl case with abstract black paint artwork that is presumably another Freyja Drumm original. This is very much the core of what cassette noise means to me – simple home-made packages, hefty sound, filled to the brim with music. I can’t help but think of Drumm’s side of I Drink Your Skin, the remix exchange with Aaron Dilloway that was recently reissued on cd.

The next release changes things up quite a bit, as the first (and very nearly only) collaborative effort, the first release clearly conceived as a release on a different label, and the first vinyl from Drumm in 2012. Venexia, released on the delightfully elaborate Pan Recordings label, presenting the quartet of electronic musician Mika Vainio (from Pan Sonic), trumpeter Axel Dörner, saxophonist Lucio Capece, and of course Drumm. This quartet played a series of concerts around Europe in 2008, including a visit to Venice that was recorded. A subsequent performance in 2011 appears to have sparked renewed interest in those recordings, and Capece prepared them for release with minimal intervention. The music is clearly within the realm of electro-acoustic improvisation, with acoustic drones and breathy sound balanced against electronics and controlled noise. The piece is largely built in layers, with each musician developing a sound or set of sounds and allowing that to permeate the full space before moving on to other sounds. It’s not always clear who is responsible for which sounds, as the instruments rarely reveal themselves and the electronics supply a wide range of textures. The interaction is quite fluid as well, leaving no sound standing alone and no thread left hanging. Unfortunately this is the only collaborative improvisation from Drumm this year, hopefully other projects such as the trio with Capece and Radu Malfatti eventually emerge.

Following the first LP, a tape release entitled Single. This tape is unique in a different way – the sounds on each copy are only to be found on that tape, every copy containing different audio.

I can’t speak for any copy but my own, but my tape contains storm recordings playing background to a wavering synthesizer, with a touch of the camp horror movie soundtrack but keeping the intensity of a noise piece. This storm isn’t showy, it’s heavy and thick. The synth wavers and rises but it’s low and tense.

There may be a horror soundtrack out of this, but it’s not campy at all. The unique audio angle isn’t new to Drumm, having released Blank in the same manner (I can’t find my copy to compare the two, I remember that one being more sparse). But as an approach to the packaging and distribution of music it’s a compelling direction – more in line with the nature of live performance than any typical model for physical release of music.

After Single comes another wild card – a Kevin Drumm remix track. Taking a chunk of digital fuzz and buzz from Russell Haswell’s aborted 5” vinyl series (now compiled on a single lp), Drumm presents the track Harshing (Kevin Drumm “GODDAMNIT!! 1,2,3” Remix) on a 12” with other mixes from REGIS and William Bennett. This mix retains the jump-cutting structure of the original piece but fills out the low-end… and then whisks away the harshness and buries it under a soft, pretty melody. The skitter and skree is still there but now it’s coated in digital sugar.

The next CD release is perhaps the best of the batch. Announced on September 2nd, recorded in July and August, and dedicated to Kevin’s least favorite thing in the world, Humid Weather is a two track cdr that demonstrates many facets of Drumm’s skills quite admirably. The first track starts with rhythms and field recordings but soon a real, well-recorded thunderstorm arrives. The thunder then inspires a counterattack of feedback and noise, but eventually the response dies off and the storm runs its course. The storm resolves into a moving tone, a feeling of searching or hoping, not static enough to be a drone. The tone does start tense, but there are rumblings beneath it that hint of depth and deepness. Two-thirds of the way through, voices begin rise up from the distance, with few clear words, some of it not in English. Phone conversations, perhaps, and by now the tone has gotten more stressful so they feel like rising tempers. In the end the rain returns but not the thunder. The second track is a cut-up noise assembly, heavy but it starts somehow relaxed, a calm crush. An unsteady engine rumble takes over a little before the halfway point, propelling the piece faster forward and leading to a series of thick and buzzy drones. The drones close the piece in a rushing, stressful rise. Overall the disc summons not only the sounds of summer, but also the oppression and discomfort of humidity. There are crucial aspects here that don’t appear in any of the other works I’m writing about. In fact nature recordings and found sounds are almost never found anywhere in Drumm’s catalog, but the way they come together is still uniquely Kevin Drumm. Humid Weather, much like his other landmark recordings such as Sheer Hellish Miasma, Guitar, or Second, stands out because it stands alone.

The conceptual follow-up to Single was announced near the end of September, but this time the ante has gone up – UGH, a 6-cassette set of unique music. The packaging is a vinyl case with hand-made art, though on my copy the art is more elaborate and the previous minimal paint splatter has become a color-field with textures and a shadowed swirling line. I guess you can get a lot of mileage from an artist paid in ice cream (assuming this is once again Freyja). The sound is somewhat in line with the Moving tape – heavy rumble, violent scree, and near constant energy. The tapes are about 5 minutes per side and the feeling I get is that each side presents a self-contained short piece, there isn’t any continuity and in fact the palette seems to change slightly from side to side. The instrumentation probably hasn’t changed (I’m no use at identifying that, I’m afraid) but the mood shifts subtly, as if each piece was recorded at an entirely different moment. All told it’s about an hour of music, which means over multiple sets there are surely multiple hours of unique recordings. This is something of a blow to an obsessive collector (like myself, can’t you tell?) but in a way the momentousness of the project provides something like relief, forces me to pay more attention to my 60 minutes and give up on however much is left that I won’t ever hear. A little bit.

The last cdr release of 2012 was in the same announcement – More Answers, with the line ‘hell is a hotel room’ by way of product description. My computer thinks it’s a trance track called Entspannt Schlank Werden, and there’s no further information on the cd, but the contents are a single, 33+ minute track. A drone layering of ancestry similar to the Kitchen, with what appears to be acoustically generated drones layered on top of a synthesizer drone. It’s gradual but far from static, with sounds sliding around, shifting and dispersing throughout. There is a synthesizer drone undercarriage that grows to prominence with its own gradual shifts, but the other tones don’t recede. In fact some take up what might even be a melodic path, though slow and somewhat wandering. Some of the tones might even be stringed instruments, though it’s hard to say with so much other activity moving through the soundspace.

The last two releases of 2012 weren’t announced through recreationalpanick, but rather through more traditional channels. Both happened in October and both were released on vinyl, and significantly both on European labels that had released Drumm material previously. The first of these, Crowded, was released on Bocian. The first side, entitled Repetitive Algae, is a scraping, whistling drone track that has a certain uncomfortable feeling of space, somewhere between the Kitchen and Dying Air. On this track, Russell Haswell apparently returns the remix favor somewhat, credited with ‘spectral editing and time domain consultation’. The second side, titled Rediki, starts as a weirdly quiet searing guitar enterprise, which is suddenly overwhelmed by a pulsing heavy oscillation. So heavy you can see the beats directly on the grooves. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself, because the groove patterns on this side are strangely compelling. New patterns emerge around a third of the way through, again visible to the naked eye, though less of a pulse and more of a surging pattern. In the last third, the patterns are less (visually!) obvious as the static drive is more or less constant, though there is still a steady pulse giving a feeling not dissimilar to a locked groove. This pattern transitions into waves of noise which building to almost wall-noise thickness before collapsing into a brief carnival of smaller sounds and then falling silent. This is one of the first Drumm releases from this year available through digital distribution, but I haven’t looked at the bits to see if they’re as cool as the grooves.

The second solo vinyl release, Relief, was nominally a 45 rpm, released on the current incarnation of the label that released what might be Drumm’s breakout album Sheer Hellish Miasma – editions Mego. On recreationalpanick, however, Drumm points out that the album is valid at 33 RPM as well. At 33 RPM, Relief starts off as a hefty broth of electronic hum, moan, whistle, and beep. A steady low rumble eventually overwhelms the first side, and the other sounds don’t disappear but pale against the heavier sound. Eventually a shifting tone provides momentum until the end of the side. The second side again picks up about where the first left off, but the momentum is now in a sputtering static. All the elements from the first side remain and each eventually fights their way to the top. In the final portion the same rumble that dominated side A reasserts itself to a rumbling conclusion. There’s a buzzing guitar coda of a second track on side B as well. At the prescribed 45 RPM, the features and details of the piece are pulled together into a static haze, with the rises and rumbles of the slower listen pitched up into more overall color rather than clear texture. The rumbles are more drone-like, the moving parts more prevalent, the eruptions of noise more jarring and abrupt. Even the coda is more intense, less buzzing and more crushing. This album reminds me a little of Impish Tyrant, with a similar use of texture and layers.

The coda of Drumm’s monstrous 2012 showed up not on recreationalpanick but in the Hospital Productions winter sale announcement flier on the 10th of December in the form of a pre-order announcement: Tannenbaum. The music in this outing is full-on synth drone, stark and buzzing and drifting ever so slowly around the room. Nominally a 2-cd set with one piece per disc, a special edition with four more tracks on two cassettes was also announced (in a painted black box and a large white envelop, with a white branch of fake Christmas tree). A solid addition to the thread that started back as far as Comedy but with its nearest ancestors in Imperial Horizon or the drones assembled in the Imperial Distortion compilation. Defying the Christmassy associations attached to the title via an old carol, the translation here must refer to a snow-laden and huge in a distant, desolate winter. The textures vary from piece to piece, as does the weight and thickness. But the experience of near stasis is a constant.

That’s the only sort of stasis to be found in the Drumm catalog of 2012. Even edition sizes (occasionally announced to be as low as 15) didn’t stay fixed, as in the first few months of 2013 more copies and digital versions were made available of some cdr releases. In one year Kevin Drumm has explored near silence, wall noise, smothering drone, sparseness, collective improvisation, field recording, humor, one-off recordings, tapes, vinyl, cdrs, and child labor. He has produced a mountain of music just this year, and while there are standouts it’s practically all rewarding to hear. ■

Discography (2012 + 1)


Release Year Label
Blast of Silence 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
I Have a Computer 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Dying Air 2012 Self-released
The Back Room 2012 Self-released
The Kitchen 2012 Self-released (Reissued 2013, Bocian Records)
The Whole House 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Electronic Harassment 2012 Cardinal Records
Electronic Harassment II/III 2012 Self-released
Twinkle Toes 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Moving 2012 Self-released
Venexia 2012 PAN Recordings
Single 2012 Self-released
Harshing (Kevin Drumm “GODDAMNIT!! 1,2,3” Remix) on Russell Haswell – Remixed 2012 Downwards
Humid Weather 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Ugh 2012 Self-released
More Answers 2012 Self-released, Digital release 2013 Hospital Productions
Crowded 2012 Bocian Records
Relief 2012 eMego
Tannenbaum 2013 Hospital Productions

Photo Credits

The Kitchen, Kevin Drumm.
The Back Room, Kevin Drumm.
All others by the author.

About the Author

Mark Flaum is the administrator of and an editor of surround.
He doesn’t usually do this sort of thing.