The Sand Rays
CD (ltd. 300)
After the dissolution of The Infant Cycle, Jim DeJong went on a hiatus from production, and disappeared into seclusion. However, after a few months, an offer to score a feature film appeared, which spurred him back into production. A lot of flexible basic tracks were produced during this time, that could be fitted together for different scenes. Unfortunately, the film production ground to a halt, but being active again caused DeJong to begin his new project, The Sand Rays, and adapt some of the film score ideas into something that could be released and heard. A number of EPs were released on DeJong's label The Ceiling in tiny editions, under a number of similar names (The Sand Rays, Ray Sands, Sandra Y.), which are hard to find. The sounds emanate from an assortment of instruments and sound makers including carved runout grooves, bass guitar, bird cages, shortwave radio, and more, cooked into a choppy stew of drones and mood.
The cover photo reflects its contents. Up close, a pretty photo of sumac, but pulls back to reveal a more troubled location. This location was outside DeJong's old studio, a brownsfield too toxic for people, but a safe place for the vegetation to flourish.
The material could be considered an extension of the final inclinations of The Infant Cycle, such as the "Drop-Out Center" album (2012, Zhelezobeton). A new chapter in the same book? Now we bring together the rare first four EPs in an easier to find and digest package, with full colour sleeve artwork. Eight interlocking tracks. Play it straight through, or random, or repeat.
You may remember that in a short period of time I reviewed four 3” CDR releases by The Sand Rays, or Ray Sands or Sandray. All of these were quite mysterious, and all of them contained music by Jim DeJong, sometimes called Jim The Younger or Jim The Medium or Jim The Elder. In an era where marketing seems very important it becomes, maybe, fashionable to un-market oneself. Just dream up a new name each time and make it impossible to find. No-one would care anyway. Unless of course that is the marketing trick, but I doubt that in the case of The Sand Rays, even when these four 3” CDR are now compiled onto one CD. Ah, so they belonged together! Who would have guessed? I write about these in Vital Weekly 1016, 1019, 1028 and 1030. You could look that up, or let me just repeated the basics here. New to the basics is a list of instruments, which include “bass guitar, shortwave, playout, field recordings, dehumidifier, bird cage, poly-800 and even cheaper keyboard, camera”. Three of the four discs contained only ten to twelve minutes of music, and the last one lasted twenty. Here’s some quote (re-) mix up soup: “In the title piece there is also a bit of drone like sounds, which could either be from the use of train sounds or heavily processed whistles - maybe the title doesn't leave much to guess? Both of these pieces are quite minimal when it comes to development or changes. They are there, but mainly operate on a level of changing the equalisation to add to the variety of the music”. “It is not easy to say what is fed into those delay units, but my guess would be some kind of acoustic sounds, which we are no longer able to identify, especially in the first. In the second piece, 'That Blurry Tunnel There', the source might be more of a field recording nature - the hollow sound of that blurry tunnel there, in the mist. Changes in both pieces are quite minimal and take some time to show development”. “It all remains a bit on the experimental drone side of things. A bit of samples of an unknown origin, mucho sound effects to drone-out those samples and two moody pieces of electronics is what you get. And that's what you got last time, and before that, so that's what this is all about. Minimalist electronic sounds, perhaps based on field recordings, finely transformed and not too mellow in approach. We have six pieces by now, and a somewhat clearer idea of what this is all about”. “There is a difference here with the previous lot, which is that here we have just one long piece of twenty minutes and this piece is not intended for 7", as the previous ones were. It is perhaps also less playful than the previous releases, with much of this music being very dark. We are not kept in the loop as to what kinds of sources were used here, but this is most likely all to do with samples and lots of sound effects. Just what is sampled we don't know, but the first half is filled with some gorgeous drone material, like a giant wave of water, slowly moving. An anchor is picked up by the sonar from afar and then, after a full stop, the sunken vessel comes closer to the microphone and hear some more of the sounds aboard. There are all sorts of debris passing by and there is mild overload; then we swirl into the ship's ballroom (think Titanic) and the metal clanging become a small dance piece with industrial rhythms to end with a small coda. From the current wave of material from this imprint, I thought the mysterious one was the best.” It’s great to see all of these things lumped together and it makes up a very fine disc. ‘Volume 1’, so I was thinking, seems a complete package of the releases so far; what will be on Volume 2, then?
The Sand Rays is a project of Canadian Jim DeJong, formerly The Infant Cycle, among other activities. I remember reviewing an Infant Cycle work ('Plays Fender Bass Guitars And Bird Cages Of Unknown Origin, Exclusively') back in 2011 in an overly lengthy essay about avant-garde and esoteric music which I will not emulate here. 'Remembered Vol. 1' is as it states in the subtitle, EPs Gathered Together from DeJong's EP releases on his small label The Ceiling, in tiny editions. After the dissolution of The Infant Cycle, DeJong received an offer to score a feature film for which he produced a number of flexible basic tracks. Unfortunately, the film ended up being scrapped, but since the music was already made, The Sand Rays was born as its vehicle. This CD consists of 8 tracks of varying lengths (the shortest being 0:10; the longest 20:44) which are primarily but not exclusively drones. It also sounds somewhat industrial. You might be inclined to think of it as minimal and static in nature, and to some degree you'd be right, but not totally. "Senor Trainwhistle" which opens this compilation does kind of sound like a sustained train whistle blast that just will not stop, but there is an ever-shifting dimension to it in the variation of harmonics. At different points the perspective changes and higher, lower, or mid frequencies are emphasized. "Pingray 2" is looped, glitchy noise formed into a lopsided rhythm over various harmonic drones. "Escalator Attendant" (great title!) has trembly, shimmery, echoed harmonics into drone that morphs over time into something nearly completely different while still maintaining its original feel. "That Blurry Tunnel There" is a pretty accurate title for the description of this track. A somewhat hazy hollow tone with little variation comprises the bulk of it. Perhaps the most bizarre title on this CD is "Something Sure Smells Fishy About Sandra Y.!" It begins with some deep chambered sustained metal grating and then something that sounds like a sander on the walls. It's real deep shaft stuff. "Pongray" is as much fun as a pair of waterlogged tennis shoes bouncing around in a dysfunctional dryer. The longest track, "A Mysterious Disc 1" features a richly textured metallic drone that changes shape, size, position, with only minor incidents over the course of its duration. Then, all of a sudden it just stops dead, and a newer, more abrasive drone issues forth until it is eclipsed by other glitchy noise loops, some backwards, and eventually that drone ceases while the loops carry on. A lower tone drone emerges carrying it all out to the vast cosmos. Final track "A Mysterious Disc 2" is completely submerged drone sounding likely barely anything at all in ten seconds. The sounds used in these recordings emanate from an assortment of instruments and sound makers including carved (record) runout grooves, bass guitar, bird cages, shortwave radio, and more. Creative? Definitely. Rewarding? Sometimes. Something for the drone/noise aficionado and avant-garde minimalist enthusiast, but not many others.
So far, The Sand Rays have been survived by three e.p. releases, two of which are digital and one that is a limited run CDr. The name is also another alias for Jim DeJong, whose work under the name The Infant Cycle is all that I am familiar with. The tracks here appear to have a little more depth to them, though, and are generally more expansive in that the hushed tonal pieces have more movement and also sometimes make way for more rhythmic pieces that draw from glitch but are more full-bodied. Everything suggests DeJong pretty much knows what he’s doing and aims for a somewhat higher plateau than his peers. It’s a strong collection that deserved to be put together on a disc, anyway. Sounds like a recommendation from me, for what it’s worth.