“There is nothing pure in your hands. Let it go.”
– Jason Lescalleet, from the liner notes.
In the digital/physical debate, one of the most commonly cited issues with physical media is that it degrades over time, losing its fidelity to the intended recording. In actuality, the physical medium only records accidents, the indelible stamp of the events of its life as it occurs. Books record the sun and dust that settles in their physical position, as well as the occasional crumb stuck in the spine. Records record your movements — a friend’s careless grasp, poor packing during relocation, the shifting pressures of rearranged collections. For those who view the music contained on the medium as a sacred, inviolable form, the record is a fallen ideal; even the most careful collectors change its shape ever so slightly. Every time it fulfills its purpose, the needle makes its mark. The best records in your collection are the most worn.
In fact, all media in the physical world has a presence that can experience these changes, whether as transistor gates in a flash drive or grooves in vinyl. Of all media, magnetic tape is perhaps most notoriously vulnerable. Jason Lescalleet has made a career out of exploring and exploiting the analog medium, and on Much to my Demise, he pushes his “instrument” even farther, subjecting his recordings to the harsh reality of burial in the earth itself. In recording and arranging the results of this process, Lescalleet captures and manipulates a myriad of emergent changes to his original tape. Much to my Demise aestheticizes the acts of nature itself as the uncontrollable fate of the medium, which expands the horizon of tape music beyond the loss of the recording. It renders damage intelligible not merely as an effect on a recording’s integrity, but as a sonic object itself.
While the sustained piano at the beginning of “A Misinterpretation of a Mispronunciation” at first seems stark and alone, listening to the shell of noise that envelops it yields multitudes: a teeming mass of pops and clicks occurs at unpredictable intervals, and the compression of the tape takes on a life as it passes the vast, clear sound of the piano through the needle’s eye of the physical tape. The whispers that follow lose content too, their language smoothed by the tape and covered by noise. In their decayed state, they fall in line with the mass of organic accidents (which are themselves decayed elements of decay), melding in a single composition of lost lostness. Much to my Demise records perdition itself, where the destruction of music unites with the music of destruction.
Each piece of Much to my Demise features different forms of chaos. Single, unrepeated glitches are common, but in more maximal sections (such as the latter half of “The Tragedy of Man”), Lescalleet’s manipulations of tape speed exaggerate the changes that cover the surface of the tape in its entirety. The constancy of the decay here gives life and depth to the already dense mix, in effect adding an additional layer. In the space between what the tape once was and what it has become, the demise of the old becomes a character in itself, expanding to fill the void left by the lost sound. It is the unpredictable complexity of physical process given voice, the whisper of death as entropy unfolding.
The final piece of Much to my Demise quite appropriately assumes the outward appearance of drone doom, taking the genre at its word. Although tape is continuous, its fidelity depends on the speed of its movement through the head. Many have exploited this effect to play with pitch, but “My Dreams are Dogs that Bite Me” pushes beyond this, the slowed recording exhibiting the physical motion of the tape itself. What was once an abstract, inaudible process of recording becomes an audible process of creation. In this transfiguration of speed, Lescalleet stretches the inevitability of each musical moment into a physical distance, even giving the “silence” of the tape itself moments to breathe.
It’s in that slowed silence that the decay artifacts disclose themselves most apparently. What we hear in these moments is the haunted tape, rising from its own burial, its fate sealed in the changes that have already taken hold. The heads struggle to make sense of it, but the music itself emerges infinitely richer despite its losses. There are more to come — one by one, the grooves of each LP will wear out, and the scratches will accumulate unto the crack of doom. The record will warp, discolor, acquire dust. What will be left after fidelity’s evanescence? Not silence, but the ghostly sound of inevitability.