The work of Katie Gately is astonishing to behold. Without wishing to resort to hyperbole, there is simply no other artist exploring sound in a manner even close to the exploratory bravery of this LA-based producer. Since we first heard her self-titled release for Public Information last year it’s been one to which we’ve returned again and again, finding new details on every listen. Her Pipes cassette for Blue Tapes was equally intriguing, and she’s followed both releases with something totally unexpected – a split 12″ release on what is ostensibly an “indie” label.
“Pivot” is a 14-minute opus that fills one side of Fat Cat’s 23rd split 12″ release, the penultimate edition in a long-running series (the first, featuring Third Eye Foundation and V/Vm, was released in 1998). Gately has spoken loudly of her interest in pop music, and “Pivot” plays not just with the ideas of sound art and electronic music, it seeks to revise the idea of pop itself. Built from a series of movements, it could be classed as anything from a classical suite to a mini pop-opera. It was born out of a long period of genesis, so grueling that Gately developed tendonitis from the many machinations and manipulations that the project entailed. It opens with a series of harmonised vocals that sound like childlike cooing, growing steadily to an explosive thrum. These sounds are peppered with the sound of digitised vocals and percussive tics, an abstract opening in which Gately lays out her sonic palette. “Hungry halo,” she sings, as layered vocals grow through satisfying chord resolutions.
There’s a point about three minutes in when a drifting vocal line hints at a true beginning, moving beyond introductory notes and ideas. At the eight-minute mark there’s a bass drum stomp that evokes pomp and ceremony, nationalistic pride or Wicker Man-esque ritual. We’d be lying if we said we could make out every lyric, but the emotion and exuberance make up for the lack of clarity. Rolling sax lines follow haunting vocal lines, effected and distorted as they are, while a lone channel of Gately’s “natural” human voice sings of winter. Speaking to 20 Jazz Funk Greats (for whom she recently crafted a stunning and epic podcast), she explained a moment of realisation she had during the making of this piece, and how she would treat her vocals as she would any other instrumentation: “It won’t be realistic or match classical conventions – but that’s OK – I’m trying to make monster worlds, so they should sound different.” There is truly a monster world to be found in “Pivot” – not necessarily scary, but alien and unfamiliar. It is this unfamiliarity is what truly sets her apart from any contemporaries.
On the other side are four tracks from Melbourne-based New Zealander Tlaotlon, who recently popped up on 1080p. Just as Gately redefines pop, so Tlaotlon reimagines the very idea of “dance” music. “Myriade” starts with blasts of sound that sound like car horns, heavy kick drums and clanking effects. Cascading synth patterns fall from above, crashing percussion melds together for an other-worldly few minutes. “Ascensis” jacks into life with straight-up 4/4 beats, yet manages to drift entirely in another direction, a feeling lingering of two discrete tracks hovering over each other to confuse and confound listeners. “Odys” is haunting, a noisy yet beautiful piece that balances digitised sonics with tribal drums. “Siade”, finally, kicks forth in defiant 3/4, beautiful unregimented trance riffs dancing around the almost militaristic drum patterns. The four tracks here are bizarrely unrelated except in scope and approach, obtuse aural differences standing in place of coherence. A world away from Katie Gately’s distinct, self-contained universe, Tlaotlon’s side nonetheless displays a talent for taking the familiar and repurposing it in truly unexpected fashion. This record is not one in which to find peace or comfort; instead, it’s for anyone wishing to step outside the staid normality of the everyday.
Katie Gately / TLAOTLON – Split Series #23 is out now on Fat Cat Records. Buy here.