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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Thomas Moronic presents … Kevin Drumm/An introduction *

* (restored)

 

The reason I’m calling this day An Introduction could probably be best explained by linking to Kevin Drumm’s discography. At a quick glance it’s clear that Drumm is a prolific artist, and his work spans many areas that I probably wouldn’t be able to do justice if I were attempt to characterise and categorise them all. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll try and focus on certain points of his body of work that are specifically exciting to me, and the reasons why, and then … yeah, I guess if you’re into it you can go searching for more. In short: Kevin Drumm is a genius.

I think I first got into Kevin Drumm after reading this interview with Jim O’Rourke where he talks about giving up playing the guitar after realising that Kevin Drumm had already done or achieved everything that he would have wanted to do with the instrument. O’Rourke is one of my all time favourite artists, so it was high praise indeed.

And so I started digging …

 

One of my all time favourite records by Drumm is Imperial Distortion, which I have often turned to as a soundtrack for when I’m writing. It creates such a perfect, unique mood. Completely inspiring and singular. I just found an article from FACT that profiles that particular album:

IMPERIAL DISTORTION: KEVIN DRUMM’S MODERN MASTERPIECE TURNS FIVE

 

 

Chalked up on Hospital Productions’ release schedule before it was even finished, the album was originally planned as a balls-to-the-wall collection of primal fuzz pedal experiments, an idea that was quickly canned when Drumm came to the decision that the results simply wouldn’t “stand the test of time”. A subsequent creative block forced him to rifle through his archives, and in doing so he came across a handful of pieces that he since has slightly disparagingly passed off as being “go nowhere tracks”. The resulting collection of odds and sods, recorded over a thirteen-year period between 1995 and 2008, became Imperial Distortion, and, thanks to some warm persuasion from Hospital’s Dominick Fernow, Drumm even kept the original title despite the fresh set of material being very much at odds with it. So we have an ambient album on a noise label, compiled from mostly archival material and given a title that would make people assume, quite wrongly, that it would be along the same lines as Drumm’s career-defining Sheer Hellish Miasma. It shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did.

It’s important at this point to think back to 2008, and while it doesn’t seem like very long ago, the sprawling U.S. noise scene was in flux. Wolf Eyes had hit their blood-belching high in ’06 with Human Animal, and Fernow himself had already begun to tip from the feedback-laden, barely-listenable aural oppression of Black Vase into the almost melodic synth-led electronics with ‘06’s pre-emptive Pleasure Ground and ‘07’s irrationally static Cave Depression set. It was in 2008 when the sun-starved basement dwellers who had pored over hand-sprayed (and probably unplayable) Hair Police CDRs in ’05 and saved their allowance for the hotwired Casio SK-1 they saw on Craigslist in ‘06, were looking for something a little different. You must remember that it was around this time too when a trio of Midwestern stoners known as Emeralds suddenly shot from being a band who sold a few tapes here and there at noise shows to being a worldwide sensation. Solar Bridge slipped out on the Hanson imprint in ’08 and helped shift the tides – the kids who used to be totally happy splicing their first tape loop, and screaming into the grubby cup on a broken pair of headphones now wanted to make new age music, and the same beardy dudes who had discovered how to break their hand-me-down synthesizers a few years earlier now wanted them repaired and spitting out arpeggios.

This instability could have been what caused Drumm to abandon his early attempts at Imperial Distortion. His comments that he was worried his tape noise experiments might not “stand the test of time” are telling indeed. Time was moving quickly, and the scene’s tolerance for his particular brand of harsh noise appeared to be waning. Certainly another crack at 2002’s Sheer Hellish Miasma would have been a mistake. It was a record that had pre-empted the general, if short lived, obsession with corrosive American noise, and to this day stands as one of its most successful sonic signifiers. Arriving notably early in the U.S. scene’s development, it emerged on Mego very much after the Austrian stable had cemented its legacy, feeling stylistically long way from the mischievous laptop hiccups of Pita’s Get Out or the well-pruned maximal experimentation of Hecker’s Sun Pandemonium. Fittingly then, when Imperial Distortion did finally see the light of day, it had a very similar effect on its listeners – it was the kind of album that we didn’t yet know we wanted. Drumm had been dabbling with minimalism for decades, but it hardly mattered – Second’s crystalline experiments and Comedy’s organ studies mostly fell on deaf ears compared with the near-universal acceptance of Imperial Distortion.

Taken from/continued here.

 

Another firm favourite is Sheer Hellish Miasma, which I don’t need to really describe too much, given the accuracy of the piece’s title. It has a cool, metal inspired cover and gets bonus points for being released on one of my very favourite record labels, MEGO. Beautifully noisy and noisily beautiful. Here’s a review from Pitchfork:

 

 

When Rhino decided to reissue the entire Mego back catalog in 2022, they came across notes for alternative titles to this particular disc, Kevin Drumm’s third solo release, and first for the electronic Viennese label. Some names scribbled down (and ultimately scratched out) included: Brain Scratch Avalanche, Tooth Filling Freebaser, and Demonic Wasabi Colonic. They were all in the running until the eleventh hour it seems, each brandishing the palpable sense of (dark) power coursing through them, as well as boldly proclaiming grievous bodily harm of a most agonizing sort. All of the vetoed names had their own je ne sais quoi, I’ll admit. And yet the decided upon title conveyed the sensation succinctly, as the vagaries of the “Miasma” in the final title somehow qualified this intense listening experience.

Back in the winter of ‘ought-two, when I first heard this Kevin Drumm disc (he was still into Norwegian death metal in those days), a blizzard had just hit the city and snow was flurrying and thick on the ground. It was my first time ever through such weather conditions and I was crazy enough to venture out into it for a few thrills, with this music strapped to my head. While familiar with Drumm’s earlier work, always the aural equivalent of a “Fisherman’s Friend” (be it by prepared guitar or synthesizer), Drumm was blasting the sinuses clean and viciously chapping the knuckles with a clarity and enhanced eucalyptus flavor unfelt before. The opening glitches were mere forbearer of the whiteout to come. What roar I presumed to be outside in the cold was already inside my cavities, and I was well beyond the turning point before even reaching the front door.

Hitting the pavement, every step was treacherous, uncertain. Thinking the storm already at its apex, it took only a minute or two before I realized it was just beginning. The snow was blowing about thick, obscuring the eyes, numbing all sense extremities, and making penetrating vision impossible beyond twenty feet. The wind was a two-by-four to the face, and it was coming from both left and right channels. I turned it up to keep my ears warm, as it had already blown off my earmuffs, and the headphones were suffering, crackling under the extreme frequencies.

Vast drifts of clean, pure snow were expanding everywhere, and the white noise that flossed through the cerebellum made perfect sense, flushing out my stuffiness in a fast-acting manner. Aside from the severe nasal drainage (in public no less), there was an underlying nastiness to it all. Drumm, hiding within all that white, was not merely packing together some frozen snowballs for further assault, but opening portals of treacherous black ice underfoot. Combined with the vociferous gales, it threatened to knock me on my ass at any moment. And with the slicks all leading to vast puddles of a most heinous slush, piss-pocked and tire-gray, it took all of my balance and willpower to hold steady throughout.

The meteorological climate was quickly turning into the frozen-solid core of “The Inferno”. Nearly a twenty-five minute journey to trudge through, I shuddered at the fact that I was barely halfway home, and the conditions were only growing more ferocious. All the chained tires on the street spun like reckless turntables and cars careened into brick buildings left, right and center. The snowplows were out in full force, but they were ungrounded, buzzing and crawling ever closer, crunching rock salt and scraping towards me. It was a sound very much like the Approach of the Valkyrie’s Vacuum, sucking and forever oncoming with this gritty, hairballed roar of eternal Norse vortices. I fell into it about eighteen minutes in, and it felt like certain death-metal doom. That’s when the dental-drill blizzard of the world around me peaked, revealing the Metal Machine Music axe at its black, bloodied valentine heart. All its cold, coiled, single-string essence was finally laid bare. I was alive and kicking in its eye, feeling the beautifully brutal essence of the storm emanating out of my head. The rush felt like Valhalla, with Vikings hacked into steaming chunks on the frozen battlefield. It rocked!

Taken from/continued here.

Kevin Drumm’s first album is amazing in that it’s solo guitar, but unlike any other solo guitar (or guitar solo for that matter) that you’re likely to hear. He doesn’t focus on guitar work anymore, having seemingly found all the logical conclusions of the instrument that he wanted to or perhaps could. This album crystallises some of the investigations into the guitar perfectly. It was recorded directly to tape in 1996 and released in 1997. It has been re-released by Thin Wrist Records.

 

 

“Looking back at Kevin through his formidably individual tunnel of works, it’s hard to remember that his first official recorded statement would be caught sneaking into bed alongside history’s milestones of “solo instrument improvisation.” Or that, in turn, it also would be caught trying to sneak out of the house built by Father Jazz, into a backyard that still hasn’t quite been fenced off yet. Those running around Chicago chasing down the sound in the mid-90’s should’ve already known about this guy and his contributions both in and out of the relative spotlight. For those far from the city winds, thankfully they might’ve gotten the message in the form of this missive. In the afterglow of later love letters titled “Sheer Hellish Miasma” and “Imperial Distortion”, it’s absolutely overdue that this first musty green postcard be dug out, polished off, and framed.

Judged by its understated title, “Self-Titled” aka “Guitar” is incredibly literal — what you hear is what you get. In the simplest considerations, the ensuing connotations and possibilities are wide open; the real-time velocity of urgent decision and movement are wrapped in a clearly-mapped compositional endurance that continues to stand firmly in the relative spotlights of this day. No surprise then, that even all these years later, we would still be trying to figure out exactly at which table Kevin should squarely sit.

They say that every kid who heard this record immediately went out and grabbed a busted guitar with a scratchy selector switch, ready to subject their friends to fuzzy pauses of amp hum. I know of at least four.”

– C. Spencer Yeh

Taken from/continued here.

 

Next is COMEDY, which was released on the aforementioned Jim O’Rourke’s Moikai label. I actually got this on CD when I was in Paris visiting Dennis and Kiddiepunk a few years ago. I picked it up at the awesome (and sadly dead) Bimbo Towers record store.

 

 

Finally reissued on Jim O’rourke’s Moikai imprint. Comedy is Drumm’s third album, recorded over two years ago. It floated around in a provisional version, entitled Organ, for quite a while and caused a genuine bidding war between labels, at least five of them, which caused our Kevin to retreat in his special endearing way, and ultimately decide not to do anything at all with it. During this hibernation, Organ underwent some changes, being dissected and bisected and now including three electronically generated magnifications, bookended by the original monolithic organ recording. The album opens and closes with this would be title track, and it’s awesome. ‘Organ’ is firmly in line with monster-minimalists Tony Conrad and Phil Niblock. The recording of this could honestly be heard over a block away from his apartment. The middle pieces are, like his album Second, extrapolations of microscopic detail and will be familiar terrain to fans of Bernhard Gunter and the Mego scene. But Drumm is so all-American, his sense of intuition over form is totally there, that classic intuition that got us all the patents.

Taken from/more here.

 

A prized possession is the Necro Acoustic set. Just amazing.

 

 

“Christ, where do I start with this one. I don’t for one minute claim to be a Drumm expert so there is no point reviewing this in reference to Drumm’s previous work. So I’ll simply review it as a noise fan. Necro Acoustic is a five CD box set of noise goodness released by Lasse Marhaug’s excellent Pica Disk label. As a package it is very nice indeed with the five separately titled discs a mix of old and new Drumm, noise and drone. In fact, to be fair, Necro Acoustic is five new Drumm records conveniently packaged together.

From the outset, I’ll nail my colours to the mast – Necro Acoustic is overwhelmingly brilliant. My problem is how to describe it to you with even a sliver of intelligence. Sure it is all about distortion and layers and blips but so is a Merzbow record and this, my friends, is a very different beast indeed. I don’t plan to write about all the discs but to give you a taste if what to expect my two favourite discs are Decrepit which includes tracks recorded between 1998 and 2009 and the single track record Organ from 1996.

Most tracks on Decripit are previously unreleased except for a couple at the end which appeared on vinyl in various guises. It runs the gamit from harsh noise, high-pitched drones to repetitive electronic nirvana (Totemic Saturation). What Drumm does on the majority of the track is produce sketches in manipulated and controlled distortion. It is some of the most intelligent and clever noise you may ever hear.

Organ was recorded by Jim O’Rourke in 1996 and made an appearance in an editted form on Drumm’s album Comedy. This is the first time the entire piece has made an appearance on any format. The track itself (all 50 + minutes of) shifts between mid-level drone and doom laden distortion all created with an organ and various filters and effects pedals. As a listening experience it is a strange one and the only words I can think of to describe it are it invokes a gentle malevolence. It’s the kind of drone track that begs to be played on the best equipment available.”

Taken from and continued at this rather cool blog.

 

Kevin Drumm has also taken part in a load of collaborations. This one, with the always fantastic Prurient, is especially interesting to my ears.

 

 

“With so damn many records pouring out, there are precious few artists who strain against sagging shelves and actually merit the “must hear” designation. One of them for me is Kevin Drumm. Widely known “guitarist” and relentless disassembler of technique, expression, and expectation, Drumm has recorded seminal solo records (first on Perdition Plastics, then the epochal Sheer Hellish Miasma), tussled in some notable duos (with, for example, RLW with Ralf Wehowsky), and even shown up to upend some “jazz”-based sessions, with Weasel Walter and Ken Vandermark.

All Are Guests in the House of the Lord is a somewhat new trajectory for Drumm – a libretto. Paired up with Prurient (Dom Fernow), this six-part suite (once in circulation on a cassette) is moody, somber, and filled with detail. Throughout this recording, the music flirts with cheese via Hammer horror effects (Fernow’s screeching recitation of the disc’s title, or cornball synths), resulting in a sound that’s challenging in ways both successful and unsuccessful. There are passages where Drumm’s flinty musical personality – guttural feedback, metallic scrapings, and sine waves – doesn’t fit neatly with Prurient’s more cinematic, even narrative approach. But there are times when, as in “On This Slab,” it works very well indeed, drawing you into its distinct space.

I found myself rarely paying attention to the recitation (there is apparently an actual libretto, which has prompted innumerable – and to my ears somewhat sloppy – comparisons with Robert Ashley), and concentrating more on the sound of the vocals. The pieces work quite well on this level. The cavernous loops on “There Died Venus” sound like someone ripping a hole in the music. There’s very effective use of “field recordings” (kids shouting in play) on “Though the Apple is Rotten.” The rumbling setting of “In Long Rows” – with Fernow’s muffled, pitch-shifted voice – reminds of the Giant in Twin Peaks. The closing “Comes Another Brood” – what story is being told here? what slaughterhouse narrative are we being led through? – sounds like the innards of a charnel house, a voice resounding bleakly within the infernal machine. I like listening to this record without feeling compelled to answer questions about narrative, which would surely reduce its pleasures for me, though your mileage may vary.”

Taken from here.

 

So that’s an introduction to Drumm’s work for those who are unfamiliar, and perhaps a reinforcement of the guy’s magnificence for those who are up to speed with him. Now it’s time to take a listen.

 

 

Links

Kevin Drumm’s blog: http://recreationalpanick.blogspot.co.uk/.
Kevin Drumm’s Bandcamp page: http://kevindrumm.bandcamp.com/.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Surprise! Zac and I showed up to the theater in Marseilles last night to show PGL, but there was some huge screw up and the theater never received a file of the film, so the event was cancelled at the last second, and we took the next train back to Paris, which is why I’m here. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Mm, yeah, PS was kind of sleepy and mostly occupied by old retirees, as I recall, with only a mere hint that it would become a gay mecca sort of place. I guess it mostly struck me as a so-so small town in a great location. Yes, Alabama. If you guys lived in France, the cities would have been filled with protesting, rioting people long before this latest disaster, but it is not France. Quite clearly. FaBlog anew! Everyone, the FaBlog has new thing at its top as of now called ‘Hotel de Twink’, the title alone of which should get at least some of you over there. ** Armando, Hi. Well, I gathered those escorts in the last month, so I think they’re alive unless fake equals dead. Most escorts these days are negative and on PREP. Yes, Palm Springs does seem to be a very different place. So I should go look at it. Maybe in October. Maybe they’ll have a good haunted house attraction or two there. Oh, man, thank you so much for saying that about PGL. That’s super kind and wonderful to hear! Gosh, thank you a ton! ** Bill, Hi, B. No, really, in the past, oh, six or eight months or maybe a little more, the escorts’ guestbooks have become places where it is a popular thing to troll. Before then they were mostly just ‘he was hot’ or ‘he was not’ or ‘he is fake’. But now the guestbooks are like a medium for snark unto themselves. Lucky me, I guess? Ah, the old dog! The good old, reliable dog! Nice to hear he/she is still alive and kicking. ** _Black_Acrylic, Oh, I’m so sorry, Ben. Yeah, best of luck re: hanging onto the manager. ** JM, Hi back to you, JM! Thanks. Yes, if I manage to remember, I’ll try to find and save an escort who specialises in birthday dates. Pop out of a cake, strip, …. etc. They do exist. Wow, the ‘Boudica’ piece sounds super interesting. You had better document that thing, or at least a trailer’s worth. I hope it goes as excitingly it sure seems like it will. Thanks for talking up PGL. It’s only 90 minutes. Even I, the busiest of the bees, has 90 minutes here and there, but I digress, ha ha. I’ve heard a little about the James Benning exhibitions, but nearly enough. I’ll find out more. Ooh, that is exciting. Lovely to see you, pal. Really great luck with the theater piece, the reading, the academia, and everything else! xo ** Okay. Today I give you an old, restored post made by the honorable writer and human being Thomas ‘Moronic’ Moore introducing you to the killer work of the great Kevin Drumm. Enjoy, folks. See you tomorrow.

6 Comments

  1. Kevin Drumm’s work is really lovely. it reminds me in some ways of my old Communist martyrs High classmate Charlemagne Palestine.

  2. Good to see this again. My favorite Drumm are still the very early guitar-driven pieces. There was also a noisy trio called something like Corinne?

    Sorry to hear about the Marseilles snafu, but good to have you back, Dennis.

    The old dog is coming along surprisingly well. I’m fine with the kitten just being cute and not very productive for the upcoming gig.

    Bill

  3. @ Thomas, thank you for the chance to revisit this tremendous day! I especially enjoy his more abstract electronic sounds eg the Prurient collaborations, but all of it sounds essential. Interesting also that David E makes the Charlemagne Palestine comparison, I can hear that in Mr Drumm’s work.

    @ DC, word is that the Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa will stick around for another season, which I hope is correct. Last week the Yorkshire Evening Post football journalist Phil Hay posted this on Twitter – “Hoying down at Thorp Arch earlier, absolutely horrible. Drive out and Bielsa is on his own starting a long trek home to Wetherby, no coat and just a tracksuit top on with his hood up, getting soaked. “Would you like a lift??” “No thank you, I like this.” Such a one-off.” I’m informed by my Leeds contacts that the man lives in a humble flat above a chiropodists in Wetherby like the true ascetic genius that he is.

  4. Thomas Moronic

    May 18, 2019 at 1:14 am

    Hey Dennis! Cool to see this again. Sorry about the fuck up at your screening – that sounds frustrating to say the least. Hope you’re good. Xoxo

  5. America’s doomed because it’s not France. We should be rioting over the anti-abortion legislation and rush towards war with Iran. Instead, we’re doing angry Facebook posts and tweets (myself included.)

    On a brighter note, my interview with Floria Sigismondi finally took place tonight. I talked to her for half an hour. She recently completed shooting TURNING, her Spielberg-produced TURN OF THE SCREW adaptation (set in the 1990s), and will soon start post-production on it. She was quite open about discussing interpretation of images in her videos.

    Have you heard the new Tyler, the Creator album? It feels closer to CHERRY BOMB than FLOWER BOY, but far more focused and polished. I’m reviewing it for Gay City News.

  6. Corey Heiferman

    May 18, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Thanks Thomas for the introduction to Drumm. I’ve fallen into Tel Aviv’s underground noise scene so this is especially appreciated both for my own enjoyment and to share around.

    Dennis, that’s such a bummer the screening was cancelled! I used to work in a projection booth. I shudder to think about the sinking feeling in my gut the moment my colleagues and I realized a screening had to be cancelled due to an insurmountable technical problem.

    Did you get the chance to listen to Jeanines? Also, I’ve made the leap from Bandcamp lingerer to participant. Along with this blog of course, it seems like one of the few corners of the web that’s good for the soul.

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