Saturday, October 07, 2006


It's hard to summarize all the great stuff my pal Jeff Bagato has done for the D.C. avant, noise, and jazz scenes, but suffice to say that his ongoing Electric Possible concert series is a heroic beacon in an otherwise foggy musical region, and his support of tons of other local and national stuff is beyond compare. Jeff also happens to be a musical wizard in his own right, and a few years back - I'm guessing around 1999 or 2000? - he came up with the geniusly simple idea to buy some cheap hacksaws from a dollar store, grab some thriftstore vinyl, stick a mic under the LPs and start sawing away. The result of this vital experiment, conducted under the moniker DJ Panic, was/is pretty mind-blowing. The range of sounds Jeff gets out of his simple set-up (see image to the right), which he usually attacks while sitting down with his head pointed down as if trying to start a fire in the woods with sticks, is really wide and insanely unpredictable. My favorite thing to do when he plays is randomly close my eyes and try to forget where Jeff's sounds are coming from -- something made very easy by his weirdo collection of blurps, cuts, squeaks, and whines that often evoke a violin, a synth, a pedal, or an animal much more than a turntable.

A little while ago Jeff invented a new version of this m.o., which he dubbed Tone Ghosting, though he still goes by the name DJ Panic in things like his avant-noise trio Spaceships Panic Orbit. Tone Ghosting is basically an extension of the DJ Panic approach, now expanded to include effects, loops, dubs, vocals, and other patented audio secrets. The latest Tone Ghosting release, an hour-long "EP" called Castle Changes and subsidized by another DC stalwart, Sockets CDR, is a pretty comprehensive display of the various ideas Jeff is currently exploring. Here we get 9 versions of a single piece called "Castle Changes," starting with a 15-minute, all-over-the-map "Popular III Human Nation Dub" and whittling down to a final 3-minute "Castle Basic" which seems to be just the DJ Panic scratch-line that the piece is based around. Along the way Jeff creates versions that layer and double the scratch-line into weird echoes and ghosts; remixes with little shards of beat and pulse; a "Vox Pop Mix" with an insidiously catchy lyric sung by Jeff in a Mr. Skull-style bellow; and even an a capella version with the lyrics sung alone.

The core of all these fascinating iterations is the sneaky, vicious DJ Panic vinyl destruction - no matter what direction it gets pulled, the powerful scratch-line remains the beating heart of each piece, slicing through the air so virulently that even Jeff's frequent pauses seem to vibrate and echo with his static, bubbling noise. My favorite example is the "Spastic Rev Remix" (linked below), which offers the EP's most spacey, goofy noises right alongside its most violent. I also love the way Jeff uses volume and pace on this one to create little moments of structure and momentum - the timing of some of his pull-backs and push-forwards are just perfect, like an endless string of set-ups and punch lines. Maybe that's the best way to think of Castle Changes' internal clock, like the absurdist jokes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, divining surreal humor from endless loops and infinite possibilities.

TONE GHOSTING - "Castle Changes (Spastic Rev Remix)" from Castle Changes


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