No label this side of Editions Mego has mined the seam between noise and techno as thoughtfully as Berlin’s comparatively fledgling PAN. Bill Kouligas’ Berlin label skews more aggressive, though, drawing on a scrappier and more confrontational generation of noisemakers. PAN’s take on noise sounds nothing like Mego’s friable, sculpted washes of Max/MSP bits: its bolder, much less abstract, and meant to be heard with the whole body. So the label is an excellent home for Grapes and Snakes, a brief 40 minutes of basement musique concrète from tape-loop manipulators Aaron Dilloway and Jason Lescalleet.
For its first half, A-side “Shattered Capsules” fools you into thinking it’s a needling, synth-like drone. Its surface is mesmerizingly warped by the slight irregularities of the tape loop. Just as you acclimate to the surroundings, Dilloway and Lescalleet submerge it under an intense low-pass filter. Only the faintest, silty contour remains visible for its second half before it lumbers up out of the muck and into a frenzy of cleansing high frequencies. The second side, which consists of “Burning Nest,” stashes the drone behind a hit of white noise like an open hi-hat gone to seed. The duo then spend some time paring down a groaning feedback loop straight out of Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy For Lilith, meditatively decanting the diminishing sound between stereo channels. Lest you get too comfortable, a sound like a squeaky gate being slammed shut takes over, as if they’re reminding you this is tape music, not drone metal. Then again, maybe not: a chirping, broken techno beat concludes the album with its catchiest two minutes, a final feint that makes the payoff that much bigger.
Grapes and Snakes is an exemplary PAN release in how it connects the dots between the history of electronic music and DIY praxis; but who cares when the end product is this well crafted and involving? This sounds like noise musicians finding an audience through affinity rather than antagonism, and it raises what they’re doing here above genre, just in case toying with the listener’s expectations didn’t already accomplish that. There’s a lively unpredictability alongside some carefully plotted moments that make the grinding noise of Grapes and Snakes seductive and worth returning to.