Zebra Mu is a harsh noise project from Michael Ridge, owner of the Quagga Curious Sounds record label. Over the years he’s released more than 100 albums in one form or another, from splits to full-lengths, and I’ve known of the project for a long time without actually covering its releases on Memory Wave Transmission. Now, all that is about to change with Spear/Streak, a 25-minute CD-R comprised of five untitled tracks of uncompromising harsh noise. The CD-R comes in a nice package, with a yellow insert in a half-size DVD case; on the back side of the insert is typewritten text that looks like real musings on Biblical passages; there’s also a full page of typewritten text that comes from a Sunday School sermon. Finally, there’s a small insert, a photo of wedding presents (mine’s marked 7/72). It’s quite an interesting display, although I can’t put all of these things together into a coherent theme.
The tracks on this album aren’t long-form, and Zebra Mu works within shorter lengths – as short as two and a half minutes – to mid-length cuts, the longest tracks coming in at six minutes. The first, simply titled “I,” is a harsh noise blast of crunchy static and subtle alterations within the background of the track, with feedback squeals and laser-like electronics manipulations making their way into the mix about a third of the way through. Lots of noise squalls cut into the sound throughout the back half, adding some harsh punchy textures. “II” segues right in, featuring a more minimal texturing of cut-up and decaying stuttering static, a very interesting buzzing tone in the background, and lots of moaning and groaning.
“III” begins even more sparse, with what sounds like a lot of crackling contact miccing that reverberates and echoes on different surfaces, with some feedback slowly building into the mix before heavy harsh noise dominates the listener. The transition here is fantastic, and the high-pitched feedback is used sparingly so that it doesn’t become too disruptive.; plus, there’s a background rhythm that makes good use of the different pitched squalls. “IV” is the most experimental of these tracks, full of squeaks and squeals like the sound of a radio station just barely coming in; and Zebra Mu makes use of scratchy samples full of static along with manipulated dialogue from a film. Despite its less commandeering approach to harsh noise, it’s probably one of the more difficult listens on Spear/Streak, in a good way. “V” ends things on a quick, harsh note with heavy punctuated scratches of noise, syncopated and shallow. It opens up towards the end of the quick 2.5 minute track, ending with a nearly white-washed series of feedback squalls.
Anyone looking for some quality harsh noise that doesn’t adhere to strict formulaic methods will enjoy Zebra Mu’s work on Spear/Streak. It’s a release that doesn’t need to rely on heavy walls of sound; rather, Zebra Mu often allows single chains of noise room to shriek and scream, capturing interesting tones as the tracks shift naturally. Spear/Streak has a very cool package, but the harsh noise on the disc is the real attraction.