AMN Reviews: Public Eyesore’s Twentieth Anniversary

Summer 2018 marks the twentieth anniversary of Public Eyesore, the experimental music label founded and run by instrument maker and sound artist Bryan Day. Public Eyesore began as a part of the DIY cassette underground, a network of artists like Day who were creating sounds far removed from the mainstream and thus were in need of distribution channels of their own. Public Eyesore was originally located in the US Midwest—Day started it when he lived in Decorah, Iowa in the 1990s—and over the course of moves through several states ended up in the San Francisco Bay area, Day’s current home base. Originally a vehicle for Day’s own work and for congenial artists from the Midwest, it now features improvisers and other experimentalists from around the world both on its regular Public Eyesore imprint and its Eh? CDR sublabel.

Guitarist Bill Brovold’s Michael Goldberg Variations [PE 142] answers the challenge Brovold’s friend Goldberg posed to him in the early 2000s: could Brovold create a minimalist work that wouldn’t be repetitive and “meandering?” Brovold’s response is this set of eleven duets and one trio. The variations in question are variations based on the very minimal, basic material of two notes a fourth apart. They serve as theme, framework and foundation: sometimes as a simple melody or melodic fragment, sometimes as an ostinato or quasi-arpeggio, sometimes as a harmonic guide. Each of the twelve variations introduces changes of texture, instrumentation, arrangement, and so forth, giving each individual piece its own character while at the same time binding them all with a common, recognizable likeness.

Michael Gendreau’s Polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado [PE 140] is—mostly–an essay in liminal sound. Gendreau is an acoustician working on noise design in built environments; the raw material of much of his work consists of low frequency vibrations and their relationship to the resonances of rooms. His recording features long stretches of sounds that exist at the margins of perception, some of which are more felt than heard. But beware: the apparent silence may be broken by an unexpected and jarring upsurge of loud sounds.

Live in Japan [eh?102] is a duo set from Tania Chen and Jon Leidecker, recorded in Osaka, Chiba and Tokyo in May 2017. Chen, a UK pianist who also makes sound with found objects, toys and lo-fi electronics, and Leidecker, an experimental electronics musician from San Francisco, both appear on a recently released recording of John Cage’s Electronic Music for Piano (which also includes David Toop and Thurston Moore); they also collaborated in 2016 on Chen’s Colour Fields for video and electronics, which is in some respects a foreshadowing of Live in Japan. As with Colour Fields the performances here are about the color and textural properties of electronic sounds (and occasionally Chen’s voice): their tone, saturation, density, and reciprocal cross-shadings.

Happy twentieth, and many more.

Daniel Barbiero