Anla Courtis, Cassetopia
I’ve listened to this album many times and would say that Anla Courtis seems to favour specific musical values: musical meaning expressed by means of a plurality of sound sources and inventiveness of composition; an almost historical approach to the making of the album – a sort of retrospective glance at methods and sound archives and consequently the possibility of nostalgia in setting out a lo-fi environment; short episodic pieces each exploring their own corner of sonic territory; inventiveness within the limitations of a of restricted palette. The sources are diverse – electric guitar, tapes, bags, bells, bronceosasma system, pipes, turntable, violin, plastic trumpet, music box and processing. The music was recorded on to 4-track cassette in the early 90s and, though we are left to guess, possibly reworked.
The album is quite simple to describe but hard to recall. I can’t form an image of the music in my head as I can with, say, the music of Mark Fell or Francsisco Lopez, to take two well-known contrasting artists.
Side A has a quiet start with rumbles, clicks and loops. Then pauses and synthy pads. The music starts to become a mixture of more concrete recorded material and device-driven sounds set out as short passages of disconnected material. The foregrounds, generally identifiable timbres, are often layered with noise. Away from the processes, concepts and gestures, in purely sonic terms some of the noise passages are quite interesting as are those which focus on sound rather than organisation of sounds.
Side B offers some contrast. Things seem to run and evolve a little more freely, though again with fairly recognisable sounds, some surprises (for example something resembling a WEM copicat in full voice and something else resembling a Romanian nose flute) and carefully considered injections of feedback and resonance. Even with somewhat bland electric guitar sounds everything is extremely well-crafted and musically structured.
The whole album, to put it simply, sounds very experimental, like an invitation to a not-quite-mad professor’s lab which lends the work an atmosphere of warmth, generosity, honesty, humor and enjoyment. These are not to be treated lightly and are the qualities that make Courtis’ music so accessible.
I asked some questions of the artist questions to help me understand his choices, ideas and processes:-
What makes you decide to use so many different sound sources? Do you restrict yourself, are the resources simply what you have to hand or do you make a conscious decision to work with what one might call lo-fi sources?
The LP is from the early 90’s when I started with solo recordings. I got my first portastudio and I discovered a whole world recording in my own bedroom. Four channels on cassette! It was all fresh and new so it was exciting to try out many sounds sources and record with them as much as possible. The lo-fi aspect has to do with the cassette itself: since I didn’t get a computer until the end of the 90’s that was the only way for me to make these kind of pieces. By the way I like the cassette sound a lot – magnetic tape has some organic quality that works very well with some stuff so I still use the portastudio sometimes.
What do the titles mean – are they significant in the context of the music?
The titles are based on a neologism that connects the words “cassette” and “utopia”. Despite the fact that the name came afterwards I think it describes pretty well the spirit of that moment.
I sensed a structure of short-ish disconnected pieces. Is this a deliberate formal choice, driven by restrictions in the material or something else?
The pieces themselves are in a way all pretty different which was a kind of hallmark of that moment. To choose a sound source, to try to do something with it not knowing very well where it would end up were all part of the creative process. And I think it’s still nice that the pieces don’t sound all the same.
Some, perhaps a majority of the pieces, are gestural and quite linear. Is this again a deliberate compositional choice or is this driven by a live mixing approach to making the work? I suppose I’m asking about spontaneity here as well.
During those years I was pretty aware of my limitations so to focus only on one sound or one idea was something normal. In the end maybe that helped a bit the pieces to avoid becoming too “pretentious”. However now I find that early simplicity to be something not only anecdotic but also pretty interesting in itself.
Released as a vinyl lp on ini.itu