Droning Into The Night: A Look At Ondes Positives ‘The Larva Tapes’

Reviews / Special Features / December 14, 2016

LARVA is the in-house band for UK record label Ondes Postives, a company known for experimental releases like “The Mask” and Morricone Youth’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Created between October 2014 and November 2015 in a series of clandestine late-night sessions, “The Larva Tapes” were fully improvised and recorded live, with one stereo room mic, along to video projections of experimental films by artists such as Takashi Ito, David Lynch, John Whitney, Lillian Schwartz and Slavko Vorkapich. Here, MV writers Alan Miller and Nick Spacek take a look at each tape, going side by side with their thoughts.

Tape 1 Side 1: OCT-DEC 2014

Alan: According to the enclosed booklet, this was recorded live with one stereo room mic, which is one hell of a feat in itself. For it to just be a single omni mic, all the sounds come through quite clear with a real presence that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from this type of recording. It does get a little bass heavy at times, maybe on a track like “nine hands cutting,” for example, but overall it’s mixed extremely well. This has a real industrial vibe, not in an “industrial rock” kind of way, but in a dark grey skies and machinery, concrete walls and cinder block kind of way. In other words, this could easily fit into the Eraserhead scenes with Henry walking through the city. I’ve lost track of which songs are which, so everything from here on out is generalized. The percussion is sparse, but I enjoyed the acoustic drums over arpeggios and drones quite a bit. For it to have so many harsh synth sounds, I find the overall listening experience quite relaxing. They also do a great job mixing minimalist tracks with busier ones; it keeps the mind from wandering too far during the softer tracks.

Nick: I am absolutely baffled as to how this was recorded live with one mic. It’s astonishingly clear, although I imagine that the room allowed the sound to decay a little more than it would have otherwise. These recordings have a really warm tone to them, and I really agree with that description of everything as “industrial.” That particular word is rather important, as it conveys a sense of hands-on production and humanity which might not otherwise be brought to mind by something like “mechanical.” The Larva Tapes have a lot in common with early electronic music, because there’s a sense of experimentation, rather than regimentation. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of Devo lately, but the way the rough edges show, and things might not transition absolutely perfectly between sections make this a far more interesting listen than the clean, lockstep production which had already taken hold of an act like Kraftwerk by the time 1974’s Autobahn rolled around. The free-flowing nature of this section — especially in the droning and ethereal middle — seems perfectly-suited to headphones and deep introspection.

Tape 1 Side 2: JAN-FEB 2015

Alan: This side opens with an interesting theme; it’s almost as if these squelchy synth sounds are being born into something more solid and formed. Everything becomes percussive and rhythmic with a steady drone in the background, and then I hear a…guitar? That can’t be right, can it? If not, then that’s one hell of a distorted wah pedal effect on the synth patch. There’s a lot of chaos midway through that carries on to the end, save for a small bit of clean guitar delay. I found it enjoyable but maybe a little too metallic for my taste.

Nick: The opening to this is ominous, and very much so. As it progresses and builds, there’s some real beauty in there — that possible guitar that peeks through really had the potential to turn this into less experimental drone and more post-punk, but it never quite takes hold as well as it could have. The percussion counterpoints the drone quite well, though, and I appreciate the way the metallic aspects of this side complement the rather warmer ones of the previous one. The chaos works, but mostly because of the fact that it changes — there’s that portion about two-thirds of the way through where it slows down, and then transforms from almost pure chaos into a ping-ponging series of notes which then themselves decay into drone.

Tape 2 Side 1: MAR-SEPT 2015

Alan: Solid groove on this one. I think having a steady beat going behind all those crazy electronic sounds melds the ideas better than it just being freeform all the time. Around 7 minutes in we get a really nutty (in a good way) arpeggio sequence, accented by light percussion. It’s hard to make out any clear notes, but everything works together to make a hypnotic middle-eastern tinged melody. The next segment takes us straight into demented video game territory, with a Spyhunter-like sequence at center stage. The percussion is subtle but works, especially on the hard shaker hits. There’s a lot of tension and immediacy in this track, like a hunter stalking its prey.

Nick: It’s so groovy. The low end synth paired with the Middle Eastern melody and surf-like guitars mean this could be taking place almost anywhere. The “demented video game territory”  definitely ratchets up tension, as if it’s leading to something. I felt like this piece could easily be turned into three or four more fully-fleshed out tracks. Whereas the previous tape was more experimental, this set yields enough ideas for an album. Taking these grooves and working them further would readily entertain any listener for hours.

Tape 2 Side 2: OCT 2015

Alan: The beginning of this side is as close to traditional non-synth music as I’ve heard so far. The drums and guitar could almost pass as something post-rock; I actually got a Slint vibe from it. Once again, the music builds to a climax and then mellows a bit to transition to the next piece. I started to get lost in the middle section with the non-stop drone; it felt like everything was in a holding pattern for too long without resolve. There are some cool guitar and mandolin (maybe?) flourishes towards the end, but ultimately I just needed something a little stronger to keep me engaged.

Nick: Slint is definitely the vibe I’m getting, as well, but almost more specifically, David Pajo. On one of the albums he recorded under the Papa M moniker, Hole of Burning Alms, there’s a nearly 17-minute instrumental version of the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” which was made by turning on the recorder and just going until the tape ran out. You could hear a familiar melody underneath everything, but it was amazing to hear how it changed and evolved purely through the act of repetition. I feel like that’s what Larva is doing here. It seems ridiculous to say that it’s more the journey than the destination, but part of the appeal here is accepting the conceits of these two cassettes as being moments in time, rather than anything particularly concrete. Granted, I will accept the fact that this is all build and no jam, but given the sheer amount of ideas swirling about over the course of these two hours, it’s amazing how much works.

Packaging

Nick: First thing: there needs to be a sticker or a t-shirt with that Larva logo. It just looks too cool to not share with the world. Second: that case is so cool, I’ve spent the better part of two weeks trying to figure out a way to display it that’s not obviously ostentatious. Again — it’s something which looks so good, you kind of want people to notice it and check it out. In an age of digital media, the entire point of buying something is so you have something to touch and feel, and everything about the Larva Tapes implores you to pick it up, open the case, and poke around. It’s worthwhile, too, with amazingly intricate liner notes and layered things and I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun opening something up.

Alan: I agree wholeheartedly with all of those points: the presentation is superb. The added film cell was my favorite touch.

“The Larva Tapes” is available for purchase now at Ondes Positives.




Alan Miller
Alan is a songwriter and music enthusiast living just north of Nashville, TN. During the day he is a sysadmin at a telcom, and on the weekends he works at a local record store.