Monocoastal / Frame

This June, American experimental label 12k are re-releasing some of their oldest records, and both have stood the test of time. Frame, by Shuttle358, was originally produced all the way back in 2000 in Pasadena, California, while Marcus Fischer’s Monocoastal is celebrating its 10th anniversary. For the first time, both records will be released on vinyl.

Monocoastal is described as being ‘one of the most defining moments in the arc of 12k’s evolution’. It was Fischer’s debut release, and he’s since gone on to become a regular on the label, both as a tour partner and as a collaborator. It was a momentous release, to say the least. Monocoastal also had an impact on the record label as a whole, shaping its resulting releases over the following decade, becoming an essential thread in the label’s fabric.

For Monocoastal, Fischer took inspiration from his movements across the West Coast of America. Tape hiss surges forward and recedes, in tune with the Pacific tide, and organic, tiny sounds unfurl like musical origami. Field recordings blend in with more traditional instruments and found sounds. A piano was found, situated in the corner of a salvage warehouse, alone, abandoned, and has been resurrected back to life once again. This sits beside a xylophone, made from metal wrenches. Because of this, Monocoastal contains both analogue and digital mediums. Natural sounds are encouraged and given space to breathe.

Monocoastal’s bedrock is a lo-fi sound, its textures eroding and close to dissolving completely, fizzling distantly. Imperfections are essential to the record’s perfectly-shaped textures, and the sound remains a restrained and minimal one. Loops will always try to constrict, but additional layers offer a glimpse into expansion.

Minimalism and cold design can often go hand-in-hand, but although Fischer’s music inclines towards the minimal, the tones he deploys are actually full of familiarity and comfort, recollecting two decades of life on the West Coast. The lo-fi tones ensure that the music is frayed, torn and worn, and that comes from living its life and progressing over time; wrinkles and creases are going to occur, the fresh face eventually ageing. The same is true of music, and its ageing is the most natural thing in the world. The music’s emphasis is on light and the West Coast, ambling along coastal routes and offering up its relaxed, shoreline vibes, although the tones are still somewhat restricted. Space is key, and nothing is covered up. Conventionally ‘less attractive’ notes are given an opportunity to shine. In popular music, those same notes would’ve been edited, polished, or cast away, but beauty should never be defined by popularity, and the unobtrusive hisses and light-refracted textures are made all the more beautiful through their imperfections.

The 20th anniversary edition of Frame is cited as being the classic release for the New York-based label.

‘Frame ushered in an era of humanism, melody, and organics in the era of Microsound and the Clicks and Cuts movement at the turn of the century. While it was still steeped in digital sound and the magnification of error as intention, Frame somehow managed to fuse emotion into what had become a very structuralist and cold musical movement’.

On Frame, Dan Abrams, aka Shuttle358, produced a record of minimalist design, complete with tiny dust-pops, clicks, and micro-rhythms, which were then washed in an ambient afterglow; a scattering of digital debris put into some kind of order. Today, the music still feels as fresh as a daisy, and that’s a strong and obvious indication of a special record. Despite its mechanisations, the music can still feel warm and emotional. Somehow, Abrams inserted soul and emotion into the machine-like clusters of sound, and that’s the magic of music. As to why or how, it can never be fully understood, revealed, or answered…but it’s there, all the same.

As the rhythms cycle over and over, the robotic becomes hypnotic, the rhythms forming a line of ordered, uniform design, and somewhat strict in what they’re producing. Somehow, though, the stark textures are imbued with something very human, and there’s a loose, relaxed flow to its music, as if, in the midst of its dissolving walls of static, there lives a glimpse of something more, a soul locked into the depths of the machine’s code but still able to sing out and make its presence known. Frame never feels like a disjointed record, even with all of its attached, microscopic pieces and its sharp-edged apparatus. If errors exist, they’re exalted instead of being made to feel ashamed, integral to the music and influencing its overall flow and shape.

As Abrams says, ‘if you put an empty frame against a blank wall, you suddenly notice the colour, the patterns, the imperfections in the plaster. The frame is like a window of perception. It takes the wall outside time. The frame draws attention to what is within it – it magnifies it, you focus on it, it begins to symbolize the whole wall’.

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