Some much appreciated thoughts from the long-running Auxiliary Out, give them a read, here!
John Collins McCormick – Ad for Nails [Gilgongo]
It warms the cockles of my heart that Tempe, AZ’s Gilgongo Records is still chugging along better than ever (15 years folks! That’s like four decades in 2000s experimental DIY label years). Gilgongo has received its fair share of praise from AuxOut over the years, and judging by the three LPs the label is rolling out next month, there’s plenty more on the horizon.
On his debut LP, Ad for Nails, John Collins McCormick emulsifies solo percussion and a bit of musique concrète and that’s a cocktail I’d happily intake intravenously 24/7 if I could.
The piece for which the album is named takes up the entirety of side A. Dropping the needle immediately emits a roar of red hot, thunderous drums (though fidelity cools later on). The notes say the piece contains sounds recorded around the Midwest so there’s editing going on but it’s hard to tell to what extent. At times it seems like McCormick might have some kind of mechanical assistance (a la Eli Keszler) rather than overdubs? Definitely a sheets of sound scenario. The jump cut to the second portion is a favorite moment shifting from a free percussion-as-noise tape feel to a more spacious recording with two pieces of metal infinitely grinding around and around (definitely some Aaron Zarzutzki vibes, which the world could use plenty more of). A few subtle oscillator tones materialize signaling the advent of something. And sure enough, that something arrives in the form McCormick taking up sticks again and working the kit in a much jazzier fashion this go round. There’s a few computery glitches woven here and there. There might even be some didgeridoo and bagpipe in here?? More likely to be more oscillator or bowed something or other, but at this point who the fuck can say? Ah, then comes the palate cleanser of distant seagulls and cooing crickets. Out of the fog of near silence comes McCormick once more with a nice little percussive coda. Total banger, and not like every other free percussion weirdo out there either.
The second side, “How to Consider it Done”, is the “weirder” one, leaning a bit more to the concrète side of things, which is just dandy with me. Besides, Johnny was probably exhausted from the workout he got on the first side. There are snatches of people speaking and industrial machinery mixed in among rattling percussion. McCormick moves away from drums toward quieter, close-mic’d hand-manipulated percussion which I always find thrilling. The smaller the gesture, the more tactile the texture, the greater your pleasure. We get more birdsong, some sonar blips at one point, various split second musical samples. In one particularly indelible moment we witness the sounds of an electronic can opener in the midst of a mental breakdown. The piece is more free flowing and less structured than the first side—surprisingly restful too. According to the notes, elements of this performance were recorded live for radio at Northwestern University so that may have something to do with it. Some people like sitting on a beach and listening to the waves in order to relax, but I’ll take sitting on my couch and listening to McCormick any day.
The insert for Ad for Nails matter-of-factly states: “For best results this record should be played.” I’d have to agree! I inadvertently tested the limits of this premise as during the first spin I had left the turntable set to 45rpm. I’m happy to report that it passed. Those “20+ minute” sides flew by! It sounds good at the designated 33rpm as well, so any way you play it you’ll be satisfied. Hell, I bet it’d sound great if you played it backwards too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Still don’t know what a “gilgongo” is but after 15 wonderful years, I’m still enjoying the mystery.