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[Ed. Note: In Please Enjoy Responsibly, columnist Raymond Cummings tracks down the best noise music of the month, while keeping an eye out for the best of recent months and saluting noise triumphs of yesteryear.]
October is an odd month. There is both the fiercely festive pageantry of holidays present (Halloween) and distant (Thanksgiving, Christmas) and the crushing depression that accompanies shorter days and plummeting temperatures; the astonishing vibrancy of the changing foliage and the annoyance of frosted car windows just after dawn; the mystic aroma of smoke from the woodstoves of strangers, and the high likelihood of catching the flu, or inadvertently passing it along to a loved one. The distinct sense of things ending, winding down. This month’s selections are intended as a soundtrack to this complicated, highly personalized admixture of excitement and dread.
See also: The Best Noise Music in September: Eric Copeland, Bloodeath
SERBIAN-BORNE ANNIHILATION: WeAreAllSlaves
Hailing from Belgrade, Serbia, WeAreAllSlaves pack a hellacious, digitally distorted wallop. I like to think of VICTIM 5024 // VICTIM 5025 (self-released) as extended peeks into the tortured psyches of mental patients or prisoners in solitary confinement: twin shrill, caustic screams that sound like various, incendiary mixes of a kitchen timer’s disembowelment commingled and soaked in acid. The noxious, queasy vacillation that opens “Victim 5024” gives way to a measured, protracted howl that falls prey to whatever sound filters are responsible for the threshing slashes that crop up; these are soon subsumed under far less agreeable shocks of harassed noise, with the ambiance eventually descending to that of a prison riot, with a tone reminiscent of the Joker’s nightmarish video dispatches from The Dark Knight. “Victim 5025” harries with mechanical bell overload while, in the background, a mighty dragon growls in slow motion, then boards an early-morning commuter train; ultimately those brain-shattering bells are hoisted oppressively high up in the red. Perhaps inadvertently, the two halves pose an interesting philosophical question: Is it worse to suffer a mind that is warped and disordered but consistently so, or to suffer a mind that is largely organized but racked at all times by piercing migraines?
A STUDY IN CONTRASTS: Fluxbikes & Quidditas
The seventh volume of Hausu Mountain’s “Mugen” series is a split release from Chicago’s Fluxbikes and Philadelphia’s Quidditas. A cursory listen to the split isn’t illuminating — Fluxbikes’ massaged drone seems reminiscent of Mountains, while the Quidditas side brings to mind Oneida’s bionic space workouts. But quality time spent with the whole reveals that something quintessential is at work here.
“Driftless” is the name of the single track on the Fluxbikes side, almost 20 minutes of concentrically expanding organ drones streaked with distorted interference and waves of echo. As it proceeds, the drones shift in terms of volume and intensity, creating a disorienting, hallucinatory effect, as if the whole were being molecularly rearranged in real time. This is the sense in which a line of separation can be drawn between Mountains and Fluxbikes; Mountains aim for an ethereal, chill-out tent calm, but Fluxbikes aim to fuck around with us a bit. We are the better for it.
Quidditas’ half is called “Reawakening,” and wastes no time in rattling cages. A drum kit is assaulted at first with chalk-block cavewoman vigor as flavored feedback swirls about; it’s a very visceral, tribal experience. Then those drums are shoved aside by extreme, Taser-like electronic effects that imply the torture of migrating ducks before the drums elbow their way back in, this time with extra cymbals. The rest alternates between scrabbling, rocky percussion, corkscrewing ghosts of psychedelic guitar, and muted, guttural noise.
IVORY IN A BLENDER: Free Variety Theatre
As long as there are new exploded piano symphonies popping up, life continues to be worth living. In recent days I’ve found myself lost in the clink-plink and impressionist awe of Free Variety Theatre’s splendiferous contournant le desert irradie (Tape Space); it’s like being jostled around inside a contaminated particle accelerator. On “Women Never Sold the World,” brilliantly autistic piano splay matches wits with effects boards and abstract guitar heroics; “le résidu mosaïque” allows a host of squeezed-leech, cobwebbed electronics to rule the roost while skittish minor chords twirl heedlessly near the bottom of the mix. Yet the real fun comes on the back end, when Free Variety Theatre turns its back on the terrestrial and tiptoes out into the cosmos. The closest “Mechanics, we are not; I am no Mechanic” comes to a guiding sonic element is narration from a British woman with a flat, detached vocal countenance — she could be relating tenets of metaphysics or philosophy, difficult to say — and even that falls prey to hiccups and triplings. The rest is disembodied drum patter, synthesizers that sound like watching somebody pouring a bottle of your favorite wine down the drain feels, dark matter larks for keyboard and guitar, smushed chimes everywhere; it’s kind of like shrooming through a planetarium movie about the birth of the universe. “contournant le désert irradié” maintains a similar vibe but trades in the voices for tentative, searching ivories that are basically the piano-recital equivalent of a 10-year-old navigating a purportedly haunted mansion; also, there are horns. Sickly, scurvy horns.
A BLIZZARD OF SCISSORS: Philip White
Documents (Infrequent Seams) is the latest work from Brooklyn’s Philip White, who so thrilled yours truly at Ende Tymes 2014 in a gonzo duo configuration with saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos. Here he’s solo, vigorously rewiring jazz and funk classics way, way beyond any semblance of recognizability: Miles Davis’s “Flamenco Sketches,” Parliament’s “Flashlight,” Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away.” The results vary widely, from fractal cyberpunk chiptune with an attitude (“20140725 Flashlight”) to a psychotically distorted round of bumper cars (“20140705-15 A Night in Tunisia”) to slash ‘n’ burn, teeth-smash damage (“20140827 Rainy Night in Georgia”). And throughout the havoc it all maintains one sense, a rhyme and reason, a herky-jerky logic pulsing at the Stacker II-juiced heart of these inspired deconstructions.
VOICES IN RUINS: Rene Kita
Polkimellisuuksia (Om Ha Sva Ha Ksha Ma La Va Ra ), by the Finnish musician Rene Kita, should elicit very different reactions from different audiences. Fans of experimental sound should be simultaneously thrilled by its vivacity and disgusted that more music doesn’t take these sorts of risks. Experimental musicians should feel guilty that their catalogs neglect or outright spurn this vein of daring, Brion Gysin-esque jabberwocky. Look, I’m not trying to make anybody feel down on themselves or their unique abilities, and I fully recognize and succumb to the allure of bitchin’ gear and close-mic’d aluminum as often as anybody — but voices, people. Scrambled voices, looped voices, babbles of nonsensical Lilliputian. Crudely distended voices. Voices puking up idiotic childish babble quadrupled into and sometimes beyond the limits of inanity. Fake Kermit the Frog voices that have no discernible beginning or end; sinister cackles diced up then awkwardly Gorilla-glued into weird and scary infant mobiles of terror. Voices, is what I’m saying; we all have them, and we can do so much with them — and we fucking should.
DO LET THE DOOR BANG ON YOUR WAY OUT: Ai Tsutsumi, Ora Iso, Mischa Pavlovski
The crackling introduction suggests the fevered unwrapping of a Christmas present, but most children opening this under the tree would recoil in horror: Nutcracker’s Suite-esque woodwind action, simulated accordion, misshapen yelps fed through electronics, the sounds of scrambled silverware and shadows lurking beneath. Late in the game these elements thicken into a disorienting, demonic buzz.
Ora Iso are an art-noise concern from Brooklyn who recently released a debut, Bathcat (Ba Da Bing). I found myself drawn the most to “Meatgrinder,” where vocalist Kathleen Malay represents both melody and velocity, each lyric representative of upper-body exertion that shoves into higher registers which her recorded background chatter answers in whispers; meanwhile, the guitars drag and snap, nominally in tune, like ornery, constipated baseboard heaters or automobile drivers desperately applying brakes. There’s a tasty, vicious musique concrète air about this, with a touch of confessionism: very early Microphones, very Rosemary Krust.
It’s tempting, sometimes, to conceive of the physical world strictly in Minecraft terms, as big blocks of unchangeable matter — to forget or con ourselves into forgetting that we’re all living amid trillions of chemical reactions, that worms are burrowing through the ground beneath our feet and one day will be burrowing through us. The final track on Kapitel (Posh Isolation), the debut 12” from Copenhagen-based Mischa Pavlovski, takes that idea fairly literally. Its carpeting seems to consist wholly of microscopic detonations, insectine slicings of soil, and showers of tiny meteorites — like a more polite, diffuse take on Mindflayer’s It’s Always 1999. Over 12 minutes Pavlovski alters our relationship to these volatile hiccups, introducing governing synthesizer effects and playing sonic seismographer with the specious template established — bulging it outward, suckling it inward, teasing his nanomachines into hordes or flattening their impact. The effect is similar to bathing in overly carbonated bathwater while being probed by a Moog.