TTW#22 - Zachary James Watkins - Black Spirituals
Cassette only - limited edition of 250 copies
A1: Black Spirituals I-IV
A2: Black Spirituals II-IV
B1: Black Spirituals III-IV
B2: Black Spirituals IV-IV
Tracks A2 & B1 engineered by The Norman Conquest in October 2009.
Mixed and Mastered by Zachary James Watkins 2009-2010.
Illustration – SavX.
Zachary James Watkins writes…
“Black Spirituals was recorded during fall 2009 in Northern California. These four works grew out of intense dialogue with sound artist Morgan Craft that dealt with our mutual interests in questioning the stakes and pushing our art amidst a landscape of sameness... It’s these spaces where ideas on race, gender, sex, politics etc. inform the imaginations of artists in communities and influence new works. Also around this time, I found a dusty tape recording of a lecture from the late 70s on the topic of Black Spirituals given by scholar and musician Bernice Reagon an original member of the vocal group Sweet Honey on the Rock. This tape has helped me incorporate into my performance, stories and voices of New America. These improvised tapestries are tuned by ear and offered as meditations. What does Black Spirituals mean to you?” - Zachary James Watkins, Santa Cruz, CA, 24 March 2010.
Zachary James Watkins is a sound artist living in Northern California who has earned degrees in composition from The Cornish School and Mills College. Zachary has received commissions from various organizations and performance groups including The Microscores Project, The Beam Foundation, Somnubutone Radio Series, the sfSoundGroup and the Seattle Chamber Players. His 2006 composition Suite for String Quartet was awarded the Paul Merritt Henry Prize for Composition. Zachary has performed in festivals across the United States and in Berlin, Germany. In 2007, Zachary premiered a new multi-media work entitled Country Western as part of the Meridian Gallery’s Composers in Performance Series that received grants from the American Music Center and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. His sound art work entitled Designed Obsolescence, “spoke as a metaphor for the breakdown of the dream of technology and the myth of our society’s permanence,” review by Susan Noyes Platt in the Summer 05 issue of Art Lies. Zachary was raised in Lubbock, Texas also known as “Big Sky Country.” His works reflect this open space…
Aquarius Records (US):
One of two new strange sonic artifacts this week from the seemingly bottomless vaults of The Tapeworm, a UK tape label trafficking in the strange, the mysterious and the bizarre, this right here, an interesting bit of sound art based on the concepts of race and gender and sex and politics, and how those inform the works of artists, and what's at stake for artists as they try to push the boundaries and strictures of art, especially in terms of the above powerful themes. These references are however not so obvious on a purely musical level, Watkins weaves a slowly undulating dronescape, of deep sonic swells and muted electronic buzz, utilizing analog synths, guitars, drums and percussion, cassette, Casio, bass, and of course SuperCollider(!). Those deep swelling drones, grow more and more corrosive, the buzz intense and crumbling, building to a SUNNO))-like squall, but shot through with streaks of glitch and crunch, all draped over swirling clouds of hiss, and haunting undulating melodies before slipping back into a more tranquil stretch of deep resonant dronemusic. The piece is somehow based on a cassette tape Watkins found of a lecture by scholar and musician Bernice Reagon, a member of vocal group Sweet Honey On The Rock, which Watkins sometimes incorporated into live performances, though we don't hear it here. Definitely recommended for all the drone lovers out there, had this been a super limited cd-r, in mysterious black packaging, with some name like Blackened Blood Sphere, all you grim heavies would be all over this, so maybe that's actually what the dripping oozing crucifix cover is all about, and the title, cuz these are indeed some seriously grim black sonic spirituals. And are thus, as with pretty much all Tapeworm stuff, totally recommended.
LIMITED TO 250 COPIES. With cool dripping crucifix cover art by Savage Pencil.
New from the ever-essential Tapeworm series, this release is by Californian sound artist Zachary James Watkins, whose CV reveals a seasoned background in composition that boasts multiple degrees, awards and commissions. Black Spirituals was recorded last year, arising from Watkins' “intense dialogue” with fellow artist Morgan Craft - comparatively little else is revealed in terms of the genesis of these four pieces, although Watkins cites the use of a dusty tape recording of a late 1970s lecture given by Bernice Reagon (of the vocal group Sweet Honey On The Rock) - something you can hear dissolved into the frenetic drums and rather uplifting, loose guitar chords of 'Black Spirituals III-IV'. The music here is improvised, although certainly, the opening piece feels like a very measured and considered affair, furtively undulating through a modulating synthesizer drone. That account might not make it sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary, but in practice there's something utterly captivating going on here. “Black Spirituals II-IV” is very different, however, stirring up a torrent of distorted bass noise the like of which you might expect to hear from someone like Stephen O'Malley, Oren Ambarchi or Daniel Menche. At more than twenty minutes this piece's running time is hefty, but the full duration reveals all manner of aggressive overtones and feedback formations. The cassette concludes with a ten-minute recording that's closest in spirit to the synth drone of the opener, though it even more clearly invites comparison with the LaMonte Young school of minimalism. Excellent stuff - limited to 250 copies.
The Wire (UK):
Another wonderful Tapeworm release, this one by a Northern California composer whose profile is on the rise. Two pieces are lovely assemblages of synthesizer tones elevating and lowering of their own accord, another is a crunchy and distended electro-gush. But the first track on side two, built around a voice from Sweet Honey in the Rock, is a slab of dark, babbling otherness with words and apparent rock instrumentation circling each other with electricity radiating from their fingertips. Quite a thing to ride.