NOTES FROM THE HOWLING ROOM:
FIFTEEN YEARS OF SONIC IMMOLATION
Released in 2011 by Crucial Blast as a digital download and a physical box set limited to 100 copies. The physical box set contains eight cds, inserts for all cds enclosed in an obi strip, a vinyl sticker, and a button, all packaged in a dvd-style snapcase. Five of the albums were previously only available as extremely limited cassette releases; three are previously unreleased in any format. For more information on the individual albums, see the appropriate discography pages.
The box set contains the following albums:
FANGS OF AN ANGRY GOD
A FISTFUL OF NIHILISM
TUMESCENT LOVE SONGS FOR PSYCHOTIC DRIFTERS
NIGHT COUNTRY FOG
Where does anything begin?
You could make the argument that Korperschwache technically begins in a hospital room on January 15, 1965, but that strikes me as unnecessarily reductionist. You might make a better argument that it begins in a troubled childhood marked by medical issues, alienation, poor social skills, the beginnings of a serious substance abuse problem, a tendency to resolve disputes by hitting people with blunt objects or threatening them with knives, and a perverse appreciation for machine noises, all of which would ultimately work their way into Korperschwache's aggressively morbid aesthetic. But if you ask me -- and in this particular instance, my opinion is the only one that counts -- Korperschwache really begins in 1988 in an unfurnished apartment in Irving, Texas.
The apartment in question was a one-bedroom place with no phone, little furniture, and a living room that contained exactly four things: a television set on the floor, a cheap lounge chair in front of it, and in one corner, a cheap no-name guitar and a tiny off-brand 15-watt amplifier. When I wasn't smoking vast amounts of pot and watching endless stacks of bad horror videos, I used the guitar to annoy my neighbors by playing (badly, I'm sure) the main riff from Celtic Frost's "Jewel Throne" over and over. A serious drinking problem made it a tad difficult to muster up the coordination to play anything more complicated, much less actual songs, and when I grew bored of playing this one monumental riff, I bought the cheapest distortion pedal I could find and amused myself by making horrible, atonal noise. I quickly discovered I could amuse myself for hours doing this. I'm sure my neighbors were appalled. My dubious status as the apartment complex's resident hoodlum is probably the only thing that saved me from noise complaints.
For all the time I spent making my tiny amplifier emit ugly noises, it never once occurred to me to tape any of it, or that anyone else would share my interest in sonic ugliness. Based on the reaction of everyone who ever came over and heard me play, I assumed I was the only one on earth who had a burning passion for antimusic. I had no idea that on the other side of the world, bands like Whitehouse, Merzbow, and Hijokaidan had already kickstarted the noise revolution. The only thing I had ever heard of (but hadn't actually heard) that even remotely resembled what I was doing was Lou Reed's METAL MACHINE MUSIC, an album that at the time was impossible to find and legendary as being the most unlistenable album in the history of ever. (I've heard it since then; it's okay.) Had I known there were others chasing the noise dragon, Korperschwache might well have lumbered into existence back then.
Fast-forward to 1995. I'm living in yet another tiny apartment -- this time in Austin, with a wee bit more furniture in the living room -- and I'm bored. Very bored. Two-plus years into an unplanned trip into the Land of Sobriety, thanks to some unpleasantness resulting in a legal ultimatum to either get straight or get locked up, I'm looking for things to occupy my time that won't get me arrested. Rehab was expensive and unpleasant enough to force me to find ways to kill time without the aid of a bottle, and thus I disovered a new sensation: the internet, then a zine (THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL, established in June, 1994 and still in existence today). One of the earliest suppliers of review material to said zine was a tiny California label called Charnel Music, purveyor of exotic sounds by the likes of Trance, Angel'in Heavy Syrup, Gravitar, and K. K. Null, along with various Japanese noise acts with albums licensed through the label. This became the conduit through which I discovered bands like Skullflower, Merzbow, Whitehouse, Hijokaidan, Aube, Incapacitants, and more -- all bands heavily into some form of the noise aesthetic. Was I astounded? Hell, I practically shit my pants. It suddenly became clear to me that it might be possible to have some kind of future playing music that was less dependent on virtuoso chops and more on noise-laden waves of sound. I pulled the guitar out of the closet, bought a four-track recording machine, and lo, Autodidact was born... and right behind it, Korperschwache.
The original idea was that Autodidact -- whose sound was heavily influenced by Band of Susans, Godflesh, and the Pain Teens, along with more abstract sonic expressionists like K. K. Null and Skullflower -- would be the band in which I performed actual songs with structures, ideally leading to fame and fortune and big-breasted groupies in latex outfits, while Korperschwache would be the noise side-project in which I blew off steam via loud, unstructured bursts of sheer noise. As it turned out, things did not exactly work out as planned (funny how that happens), and Autodidact gave up the ghost in 2003 while Korperschwache is still going strong. (The big-breasted groupies never materialized either, alas.) The boundaries between the two bands became blurred after a while (one of the many reasons for shelving Autodidact, since it seemed increasingly pointless to have two bands that were beginning to sound entirely too similar), and a year after Autodidact's dissolution, its final drummer -- the always-stylish, ever-mysterious Doktor Omega -- made the aesthetic evolution complete by joining Korperschwache, making her first appearance in the band on the tracks that eventually ended up on TEMPLE OF THE DEVIL KITTY and the first OUROBOROS album. (Any percussion sounds you hear on the albums in this box set were either generated by a very cheap and incredibly primitive drum machine or by me pounding on things.)
Korperschwache's sound and vision, from the very beginning, has been rooted in the three D's of darkness, death, and disinformation. The name itself came from Primo Levi's harrowing account of the Holocaust, SURVIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ, as the translation for "organic decay" -- the ailment listed on death certificates of those cremated in the death camp to disguise the true nature of their deaths. The sound was an attempt to recreate and purge the sound inside my skull. The inside of my head is a lot like the Navidson house: much bigger (and darker) on the inside than the outside would suggest, and filled with dark, empty rooms that spiral endlessly downward, growing murkier and more desolate the stairway descends. In one of those rooms, at the very bottom, is an eternally angry man standing on the edge of an endless, bottomless abyss... and howling. (What else?)
So. Fifteen years.
JUNK NOISE: BROKEN PEDALS, LUNATIC RECORDING STRATEGIES (1995-1996)
OVENCLEANER (1995): The first Korperschwache cassette was heavily influenced in sound by the likes of Whitehouse, Masonna, Merzbow, Hijokaidan, and Contagious Orgasm, but its packaging owed more to the American noise philosophy promoted by bands like Macronympha and Taint. Originally packaged with a cover featuring a black and white photograph of the ovens at Auschwitz, the title was a sick inside joke that made oblique reference to the cover photo while (in my mind, anyway) accurately describing the ear-scouring properties of the sound on the tape. In a sense, this album is probably the purest representation of Korperschwache's original impetus toward sonic ugliness -- a grinding, wailing stab in the dark driven by the simple question of "What will happen if I run this through that and turn it up really loud?" While later releases were inevitably some kind of reaction to what had come before, or an attempt at refining some particular part of the sound, this one was strictly a matter of amassing a number of cheap efx pedals, an equally cheap microphone, and running them into a small amplifier turned up all the way and fed (from the headphone jack -- how's that for primitive recording techniques?) into a four-track mixer. This was also the beginning of a recording strategy that would become a primary working method for at least a decade, in which I filled up all the available tracks with random, evolving noises, then "mixed" them by maxing out the level faders on all the tracks. Outside of the occasional fade-in, that was all the mixing required to suit my tastes.
The sounds themselves were generated from a variety of sources: an electric guitar, broken glass being shaken in a Tupperware bowl, pounding on household objects, microphone feedbck, and occasionally album tracks by other artists fed through a battery of stomp boxes until the original sound was rendered totally unrecognizable. Then there were the tapes -- of the air conditioner, running water, machine noises, automobiles, construction equipment, and a great many other sounds devoid of musical content -- all captured in exquisite lo-fi on an old, cheap, and damaged cassette recorder. Sometimes I would record the taped sounds directly into the mixer; sometimes I would run it through the stomp boxes. Sometimes neither of these methods would be sufficiently ugly for my taste, and I would fast-forward or rewind the tape while recording. The mixer forced to endure all this ugliness also had a variable-speed setting, which made it possible to record different tracks at different speeds. One thing I discovered early on was that it was much easier to get truly demented, ugly sounds out of cheap and / or damaged equipment, which was good, since the budget for all this joyous cacaphony could best be described as miniscule.
Originally issued on a C60 cassette, the first side consisted of the first two tracks, while the third track took up all of the second side (establishing from the start a tradition of ridiculously-long songs). The compositional nature of these tracks could best be described as completely random; I shoveled on piles of noise and when a certain sound began to bore me, I fiddled with knobs to make it different or worked in something else all together. The fourth track, included as a bonus, was scavenged from the obscure Castrated Tapes cassette FEAR WILL BE YOUR NEW GOD, a split with Antibody. "Ovencleaner" appeared in a different version (remixed by Joseph Roemer of Macronympha) on the Mother Savage compilation cassette AMERICANOISE, erroneously credited to Chinawhite (a name I had previously used briefly before discovering there was already a punk band with a similar name).
FANGS OF AN ANGRY GOD (1995): Originally released on a C60 cassette with another black and white cover (this time a close-up photo of an angry, barking dog swiped from a newspaper ad), continuing in the same vein as its predecessor. Perhaps as a reaction to the previous album, there were more songs at marginally saner lengths (but not by much), but the recording methods were pretty much the same and the overall impact continued to be as subtle as a sandpaper enema. The sound on this release is dark and noisy, but nowhere near as violent as before, with a lot more emphasis on static, drone, and minimalist repetition. "Corrupt Transmission" marks the beginning of the death-drone sound that would come to dominate later albums. This album is also where I discovered the frugal (some would say cheap) benefit of recycling pre-recorded cassettes, especially singles, for recording purposes, notably exemplified by "samantha (nice pair)," so named because the recycled cassette in question was a Samantha Fox single. Why did I have in my possession a Samantha Fox single? Uhhhhh... let's just say the answer is lost to the sands of time. The final song is a bonus track not on the original album, again taken from FEAR WILL BE YOUR NEW GOD.
BLOOD EVERYWHERE (1996): Originally released as a C60 with a bondage babe on the cover (a motif that would repeat itself for several more releases), this is where I grew incredibly bold (or incredibly lazy, depending on your opinion) and devoted one long track to each side. The first track, with the tasteful title obviously inspired by the book DEATH ON THE INSTALLMENT PLAN, includes some of the most excruciating sounds I had managed to vomit up at that point, plus bursts of "percussion" that are probably nothing more than me pounding on something, maybe even the tape recorder itself. The track on the flip side was originally recorded and released (with a somewhat different mix, if I remember correctly) on a peculiar Corprolith cassette compilation which featured different bands on the left and right stereo tracks. The idea was that you could turn off one speaker to listen to the bands independently or play both speakers to hear both bands at a time, a marvelously perverse concept that never worked for me since I only hear in one ear. I'm pretty sure I insisted on having my track run on the left channel for that reason. This track also documents my discovery that I could take a microphone and turn it up to a sufficient volume that it would feed back whenever the recording element came close to any physical object, which allowed me to "play" it like a low-budget theremin. The bonus track, which has never been released prior to this and was a leftover track that wouldn't fit on one of the earlier albums due to time constraints, was probably influenced by Contagious Orgasm and made extensive use of varying tape speeds to achieve its diseased sound.
A FISTFUL OF NIHILISM (1996): Originally released as a C60 cassette with yet another bondage bimbo on the cover, this is my favorite of the early junk-noise releases. Aside from being the most varied of the bunch in terms of sound from one track to the next, it's also the first to take some kind of rudimentary approach to composition, especially on "waiting for the number five," which consists of four relatively distinct movements. It was inspired by an unnerving encounter at the bus stop after a visit to the (now sadly defunct) record store Sound Exchange, where I was waiting for # 5 bus to arrive. A wild-looking man sat down next to me with a large, ominous-looking military duffel bag and introduced himself by fixing me with a demented stare and announcing, "I fuck dead dogs." This was followed by a long and rambling discourse (which I sincerely wish I had on tape) about how he had once killed a couple in the woods so he could kill their dog and fuck it, his certainty that he was being watched by the government, his forced confinement in a camp where shadowy government agents installed a tracking device in his head, and other alienated, psychotic delusions. Somewhere in the middle of all this I came to the decision that if he stuck his hand in the duffel bag -- which, by this point, I imagined to contain anything from a dead dog's head to a small arsenal of knives and guns -- that he was going down on the ground and I was going to snap his neck like a twig. Fear and the instinct for self-preservation will do that to you. The brief burst of microphone-fu that followed this track, "love song," was a perverse joke of sorts.
Regarding the other songs -- yes, "my microphone is on fire" is a tribute of sorts to Whitehouse. There was some sort of joke involved with "discussing structure," but I've long since forgotten what it was, so it must not have been all that funny. And yes, "god of feedback" is a nod to Masonna. The bonus track, which sounds significantly different from the original album, was taken from another leftover track and was recorded over yet another pre-recorded cassette (hence the voices), although I now have no idea what that cassette was. The title (itself a joke phrase uttered by a caustic friend) probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the track itself.
MYWOMANMYWOMANMYSLAVE (1997): Originally released as a C60 cassette on Castrated Tapes with another damsel in bondage on the cover, this was the last of the junk-noise releases (and thanks to an unpleasant, protracted bout with tinnitus shortly thereafter, the last recording at all for several years). This time the songs were shorter and more (theoretically, anyway) focused bursts of ugliness. The three tracks for the split with Antibody (including one track, "snakepit," that remains otherwise unreleased) were recorded during the same sessions as the tracks appearing on this album. Shortly after mastering all this material at truly obscene volume levels, I had a tinnitus attack that lasted for several days, which forced me to give up (at least for a while) the violent white-noise power electronics.
New things time around include cd-skipping noises (a result of experiments in using Sharpie markers to damage cds, inspired by the Evolution Control Committee release COMPACT DESTRUCTIONS), the severely detuned guitar rumble in "thrown to the wolves," and a generally murkier sound overall (a reaction to the prevailing overuse of high-pitched noise in the earlier releases and among noise albums in general). The twangy, devolved bass sound in "spirochete" is actually a skipping cd, and the rest of the sound on that track is the result of recording low-pitched tones at a normal recording speed then playing the track back at half-speed. The track "catastrophic reprise" is a remixed version of "catastrophic swarm." I think. Again, the bonus track was a leftover recording that didn't fit on the original cassette release; I now have no idea how I managed to make it sound like the cassette was disintegrating.
TUMESCENT ACTS OF EXTREME VOLUME (2001-2002)
TUMESCENT LOVE SONGS FOR PSYCHOTIC DRIFTERS (2001): By 2001 I had become so desperate to wallow in noise again that I reactivated Korperschwache, although this time I was spooked enough to record and master material at a moderately saner (well... by my standards, anyway) decibel level. Between this necessity and my feeling that the junk-noise sound had been pretty much played out, I resumed recording with a new approach -- layering tracks of loud, noise-laden, overmodulated, incredibly dissonant guitar. I quickly discovered two things: one, it was a lot easier to control the shape and flow of sound with a guitar than by compiling random bits of noise; two, the combination of extreme volume and deliberate, soul-defiling dissonance created a sound that was actually scarier and even more grating than the junk noise. This is one of my favorite albums in the entire Korperschwache catalog, and how it got lost in the shuffle remains a mystery to me. This album marks the beginning of the sound that, over the years, has inevitably caused the band to be compared to Sunn O))), despite the fact that I only heard the band for the first time three years later. This is also one of the very few (maybe only) Korperschwache albums to use bass guitar.
Dissonance plays a big part of this album's sound -- "cold fusion device," for instance, consists of several layers of guitar playing different rhythms using incredibly dissonant chords, and remains one of the ugliest-sounding things in the band's history. I "borrowed" a band name for the title of "the prettiest girls dig their own graves" just because I liked the sound of it; the fact that it fit in perfectly with the band's bleak vision certainly didn't hurt. The title to "everyone in hell wants ice water" comes from one of my father's favorite phrases, usually uttered as a response to anything starting with "I want." You can thank my DOD FX86 Death Metal pedal (the original and better-sounding version of the FX 86B I currently own, which I was unfortunately forced to sell while broke several years after this recording) for the excruciating white-noise hiss that runs through "nyarlathotep, destroyer of glaciers." Since this was the first Korperschwache album recorded specifically with the intention of being released on cd, there is no bonus track.
DER ANTIKRIST (2002): This was originally recorded between the first two releases that appeared on Crucial Blast (SORDID REVELATIONS FROM THE CULT OF THE NAZARENE and THE DEVIL SPEAKS THROUGH MY GUITAR) and was the middle part of what was intended as a perverse anti-Christian trilogy of sorts. It ended up being held back because I wasn't terribly impressed with the original finished tracks. I returned to it in 2004 while I was unemployed, when I had plenty of time and little to do with it, and decided that it would benefit from being radically deconstructed in Cool Edit, the two-track mastering program I use. I took the original tracks and chopped them up, fried them with digital effects, and slowed down / speeded up various portions to ridiculous extremes. The result was a bizarre, destroyed sound that makes this album radically different from anything else in the Korperschwache catalog. Whether that was a good thing or not remains another question entirely -- I am probably more ambivalent about this album than anything else in the band's catalog. It was certainly an interesting experiment. In places this is closer to being a dark-ambient album than anything else.
NIGHT LIGHTS AND BARE TREES (2005)
NIGHT COUNTRY FOG (2005): In 2005, during the middle of a two and half year period of unemployment, I was rendered temporarily homeless (after being forced to sell off nearly all my recording gear and a sizeable chunk of my album collection just to keep the rent paid and put food on the table for me and my girlfriend at the time) and forced to go live at my mother's house in the country for about six months while I got my shit together. With my formerly vast arsenal of gear reduced to a 16-track KORG digital mixer (purchased in 2002, and still in use), two guitars (one of them crippled by a malfunctioning jack that caused it to emit screeching white noise most of the time, rendering it useless for anything other than noise textures), one or two pedals, and a few other items, I was forced to reassess my recording methods (to put it mildly). Just to complicate matters further, I discoverd that the wiring in the house was substandard (possibly a result of being out in the country), resulting in a loud and irremovable ground hum while recording. As a result, I recorded very little during this period -- the backing tracks for the final OUROBOROS album (where I knew the ground hum was going to be drowned out by everything else once the final tracks were added) and this curiosity.
With circumstances having forced my hand, the album turned into a radical departure from the band's previous releases. Since I couldn't get rid of the background hum, I let it serve as the background for a lot of dark-ambient drone generated by the damaged guitar (used, for the most part, with the volume turned way down) and filled it up with found sounds taped from the front porch -- birds, the verdamnt barking dogs in the kennel far on the other side of the railroad track running right by the house, and the trains that passed at regular intervals all though the day and night. Some of the tracks were also leavened by a disc of sounds provided by Smolken of Dead Raven Choir (RIP), mainly violin and some chaotic bursts of noise.
It was a weird period of time during which I spent most of my days sleeping on the floor in the spare room, surrounded by what few possessions I still owned, staying up all night smoking cigarettes out on the front porch or playing VICE CITY on the XBOX, and recording this album. The title tracks reflect what time of the day or night the incidental sounds were recorded; the final track is both a tribute to the Union Pacifc train running past the house at night with its triangle of headlights lighting up the spooky trees seen on the box set photos and the classic John Fahey song "Dry Bones in the Valley (I Saw the Light Go Shining Round and Round)."
-- RKF, July 2011