Clang Records – Clang 042 – June 10th 2016
Hans Tammen’s Music for Choking Disklavier was one of the first albums to be reviewed here on Aural Aggravation, back in December last year. Deus Ex Machina finds Tammen continue to explore the possibilities of instruments when played in a fashion they were not designed to be played. Since 2000, Tammen has been working with the ‘Endangered Guitar’, and tirelessly developing its functionalities.
Tammen’s website summarises this ‘Guitar-Controlled Live Sound Processing’ in a fshion that’s more intriguing than explicitly instructive: ‘The Endangered Guitar is a journey through the land of unending sonic operations, an interactive hybrid between a guitar and a computer. The software “listens” to the playing, to then determine the parameters of the live sound processing. The guitar is the sound source, but the same sound is also used to control the software. Sounds of the guitar are processed in realtime, pitch and various other parameters of the actual playing serve as control source of the processing. Currently, additional control sources are provided by a Leap Motion Controller.’ Technical yet simultaneously vague, what it boils down to is that Tammen has devised a guitar / computer hybrid, and in 2004 her introduced a random element to the software.
Tammen’s collaboration with Lars Graugaard under the Infernal Machines moniker, which came out earlier this year, was more about utilising the Endangered Guitar in a tempered, moderated and counterbalanced way. In contrast, this live recording, the title of which references the theatrical practice of lowering a ‘god’ character on stage using a cable device in order to resolve a troublesome situation in the plot of a play, and in which Tammen casts himself the role of the actor, lowered to the stage to daringly intervene, is built on improvisation and a wide-ranging exploration of the hybrid instrument’s capabilities.
Tammen writes of the computer crashing while performing, and of how wildly unpredictable the whole setup is, and this very much translates into the audio captured on the album.
Scratched overdriven chords and discords splinter and snarl. Massive, distorted, overloading sludged-up Sunn O)))-like drones rumble on… and on… walls of sound collapse in on themselves. Pickups cut in and out intermittently, feed back and crackle. Occasionally, recognisable notes – albeit notes that sounds like a version of Metal Machine Music are distinctly audible. There are no tunes to be found here, and often, it doesn’t even sound like a guitar. On ‘Transaxle’, the guitar effects the sound of violin strings being scraped, against a droning, wheezing sound like a deflating bellows, while on ‘Interlude at Rake’, it conjures a techno sound, replicating synth stabs and booming bass beats. Rapid, looping modulations, bleeps and squiggles replicate the effect of analogue synths, with sounds which would be at home on a track by Factory Floor or Whitehouse, and elsewhere, dark ambient passages hum, rumble, grind and billow and grating industrial barrages relentlessly assault the senses. At times, it hurts. But it’s also entertaining and often enjoyable: Deus Ex Machina is sonically challenging and one can’t help but contemplate just how the sounds of a guitar can be mutated in real-time to create the diverse and sometimes utterly insane sounds captured here. It’s by no means a novelty album, either: the concept of the Endangered Guitar may sound like something of a gimmick, but Tammen demonstrates that his leading preoccupation is with innovation for the purpose of creating new sound, and more importantly, creating something with those sounds.