One-man recording group the Azusa Plane offers effects-centric guitar work from the sidelines. Unlike most home work, the music leans toward drifting atmospherics rather than angst-laden pop crooning. Multiple layers of guitar tracks are interspersed with contrasting strains of sound for a numbing overload damp with reverb and coasting on drones. And each sonic creation gets a clever, homage-infused song title. (On a 7-inch split with Roy Montgomery, Azusa Plane’s “She Was Into S&M and Bible Studies, Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea She Would Admit to Me. Her Cup of Tea She Would Admit to No One” takes its title from a verse of Belle and Sebastian’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister.”)
Jason DiEmilio of Clifton Heights, PA began recording as the Azusa Plane in 1996 by releasing the “Fall Meander” 7-inch, the first in a 10-volume set on his own Doorstep Vinyl label (since renamed Colorful Clouds for Acoustics). The Resonating Subtleties tape appeared on Shrimper, containing the most melodic of DiEmilio’s work, with minor-key songs under five minutes. “Underground Velvet” is a simple repeating lament played over a stinging stream of steady noise, while “George Harrison Plays Sitar” mixes in a rattle that contributes to its ultimate chaos. The basement recording technique causes tracks to suffer from unexpected level dips and over-modulation, an appropriate medium for the charming naïveté of exploration.
Featuring guitarist Jason Knight and drummer Quentin Stolzfus (the long-time Azusa Plane live lineup; Stolzfus now leads Mazarin), Me & Wayne Rodgers collects four live tracks, including “Hi, How Are You?” and “Pop World” from Resonating Subtleties and “Lou, Nico, John, Sterling and Maureen,” a subsequent single. With ineffectual tinny sound, Me & Wayne Rodgers sounds like a band practice. On Panic on the Streets of London, a tape-side-long track split release with Washington DC music provocateurs Music Arch De Lux (part of a ten-tape series by De Lux’s label, Supernova), DiEmilio stretches out for a longer, more abstract approach that has since become typical of his work.
Tycho Magnetic Anomaly contains four compositions and clocks in at just under 60 minutes. DiEmilio’s first CD release stretches songs beyond common cognitive grasp. Compositions develop at such a steady pace that they almost seem to go nowhere. Textures of sound emerge dominant over different takes on the narrative instrumental, and the slow interplay of passages demands listener concentration. Equally true, it can serve as the purest of sonic wallpaper, being neither intrusive nor disturbing. In other words, the rewards are there for those who care to find them.
Spires of Oxford is a binary side-project (an interesting idea: moonlighting on oneself). Two compositions, each over 20 minutes long, recorded on 2-track with two clean guitars playing along and off each other. There’s as much exploration of dissonance as variations of single chords and notes. Comparisons: Imagine if Shadow Ring made an ambient record, if Windy & Carl recorded acoustic or if John Fahey concentrated on repetition. Spires of Oxford showcases DiEmilio’s gift for creating on guitar with minimal means — give him a chord and he’ll return you an inspired gamut of possibilities.
Jacques Offenbach’s Opera Efforts falls at points to pure sound. “1863” is a low hum which sounds like air escaping, and is none too exciting. However, “1872” turns guitar slides into propulsions through the atmosphere, random pockets of Stockhausen-inspired noises slapped together. The second of two tracks entitled “1875” is the only thing here which actually sounds like a guitar-strings are tuned low and repeatedly strummed, achieving a menacing and moody result.
Spread over two compact discs, the tracks on America Is Dreaming of Universal String Theory are simply labeled “Strings” and a number. “Strings 1” is a single guitar blaring fragmented riffs and slipping through bouts of feedback; it carries all the grandeur of a live Jimi Hendrix solo. The Azusa Plane full band plays on some tracks (e.g., “Strings 3,” which begins — guitar line joined repeatedly by booming drums — as if it was the coda to the greatest rock song ever performed). The disjointed sound of America strays from this hyped intensity to the minimalist tracks of past work. Ultimately, the steady drones have given way to improvised dissonance, and DiEmilio proves he’s interested in the extremes of the guitar, not just the ends of ambience.