Fossil Aerosol Mining Project
The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971

October 2015

I believe I first found out about Fossil Aerosol Mining Project a few years ago on Zoviet France's "A Duck in a Tree" radio show, but I failed to fully appreciate what a truly unusual and improbable entity they were at the time. For one, this shadowy collective of artists from the Midwest has been quietly making uniquely strange and hallucinatory recordings since 1983. Secondly, their aesthetic is a fascinating and highly conceptual one based largely upon abandoned media, forgotten culture, and nature's singular talent for transformative decay. Musically, that makes for a very limited, hit-or-miss experience, but Fossil succeed brilliantly at evoking an alternate history where the '80s experimental music cassette scene never stopped thriving and where isolated pockets of iconoclastic visionaries and scavengers could be lurking anywhere.
It is fitting that I was first exposed to Fossil Aerosol Mining Project through Zoviet France, as the two ensembles have an enormous amount in common in their history of semi-anonymous membership, their love of unusual concepts, and their talent for making music in non-traditional and unexpected ways. In fact, the two collectives even released a collaborative double album together last year (Patina Pooling). This latest album is the first time that FAMP has appeared on vinyl by themselves though. Characteristically, The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971 is based upon a very specific theme, which is obliquely alluded to in the cryptic and mysterious title (the band’s earliest recordings seem to be from 1983): the entire album is culled from decontextualized snatches of obscure '70s genre films. That is not entirely new territory for the band, as they have previously devoted a handful of releases to the celebration of George Romero's Dawn of The Dead films, but Contaminated is more of an exploration of film's decay than of its content.
Notably, the genius and fundamental shortcoming of this album are exactly the same, as FAMP seem to make use of their base material in willfully primitive and unapologetically purist fashion. Occasionally, a deep, throbbing pulse or drone is used as a backdrop, but these nine pieces otherwise sound a lot like they could be a real-time tape loop performance or possibly even just the work of a single malfunctioning film projector. FAMP are completely unlike most of the tape-based artists that I have heard, perversely eschewing the "gradual pile-up" and "hypnotic locked-groove" techniques that the technique lends itself to so wonderfully. Instead, Fossil chooses to "magnify the grit, the errors, the bad splices, and the dropouts." The end result is a distinctively unreal, amorphous, and disorienting auditory miasma that does not sound much at all like it was deliberately created by humans.
In theory, that is wonderful and subversively contrarian, but it is very hard to sustain an entire album on clicks and pops alone (especially if the album is completely beatless). In lieu of anything resembling rhythm, melody, harmony, or power, FAMP instead offer appealingly warbling, fluttering, warped, and echoing snatches of dialogue. I am probably the target demographic for such an aesthetic, given my great love for Cabaret Voltaire’s "Project 80," but FAMP frustratingly see it as a complete idea rather than merely a textural starting point for something deeper and more significant.
The only real exception is "Floridian Mnemonics III," which beautifully enhances its stuttering and strangled snatches of speech with some warm, gently pulsing chords. Regrettably, it lasts less than three minutes, but it illustrates how much more compelling this material could be if it was just framed by some additional coloration or used in service of actual compositions. That said, The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971 is not necessarily a failure; it just does not work particularly well as music: it is nearly all atmosphere and minimal content. As an art project, however, it definitely has its merits and I absolutely love the idea of a cabal of enigmatic Midwestern weirdos raiding abandoned drive-in theaters in search of ravaged film to repurpose. Also, it casts a rather unique spell, evoking a drifting and formless fever dream that someone might have while a late-night vintage horror marathon drones away on a nearby television. Unfortunately, that is essentially all it offers, which is deeply exasperating. I love everything about this band except for their execution: if this were a more focused and musically substantial album, it would be absolutely wonderful. Instead, it is merely interesting. -- Anthony D'Amico