Drömloch – Late Style

Posted: 14 August 2016 in Albums
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Kit Records – 31st August 2016

James Wells

The title is a reference to various artists who enjoyed a creative surge in their later years, who, instead of tapering away to an end horizon, defied the conventional downward trajectory to create works which marked a new and noteworthy phase in their already illustrious careers.

As the blurb explains, ‘Ageing isn’t always a dignified, serene fade. The brink before death can be violently creative; it can bring about loss of inhibition, unexpected innovations and sourceless leaps. In art, late style often means an unfettered outpouring. Confined to a wheelchair following cancer surgery, Matisse turned to simple paper cutouts in his later years. The work produced in this period, his ‘seconde vie’, became his most admired – physical restriction had been inverted in an expression of freedom and colour. Goya’s last works were also a departure from former style. Increasingly deaf and fearing insanity, he created a series of dark paintings reflecting this bleak, morbid outlook on life. Sensory deterioration seemed to offer Goya unprecedented vision’.

In recent months, I’ve heard and reviewed a number of albums which use – and abuse – church organs to unconventional ends, although a common thematics are their slow decay and their relationship with their surroundings, the architecture and sense of place. Sense of space is also integral to the instrument’s sound: as grand an instrument as a church organ is, much of its power resides in the natural reverb of the building in which it is installed.

But Late Style is a work preoccupied less with location or architecture, but time, and where the organ’s power is concerned, the focus of attention here is on the diminishment of that power, something which also inspired Stefan Fraunberger’s recent album Quellgeister 2: Wurmloch.

However, while Fraunberger’s work and Michel Moser’s Antiphon Stein were centred around pipe organs, Drömloch’s instrument of choice is a Hohner church organ, a synthesiser situated at the label’s headquarters. And so it is that an instrument which once produced sounds resembling a pipe organ near the end of its life wheezes in a different kind of way, leading to the contemplation that ‘Perhaps circuitry and software can have late style, too.’

As is often the case when process becomes integral to the end product, a little expanation goes a long way: ‘Like creatures and plants, they change over time; they decay, confront mortality, and their functions adapt. This record is a collection of live takes recorded directly from a Hohner church organ at the point of collapse. This circuitry of this hulking synth, long-installed at Kit HQ, has inexplicably decayed over time, rendering its preset drum loops and melodies as raptures of white noise, squelches and and bizarrely spiralling clangs. The result is primitive, aleatoric music – weirdly moving digital swan-songs, each named after the mangled preset triggered during recording’.

Late Style may be dominated by elongated drones and quivering, wavering hums, sounds recognisable as originating from the groan and swell of a dilapidated organ, but bubbling bleeps and less organ-ic sounds are overlaid and cut across these to forge strange juxtapositions.

The first track ‘8 Beat Variation’ finds the organ fading in and cutting out while stop-start percussion and variable echoes and delays disrupt any kind of flow. With volumes and tones wavering and fluttering unpredictably, and extraneous feedback, whistles, crackles and pops interfering with the irregular drum machine beats, the effects is disorientating.

‘Waltz’ sounds very like the time one spends fiddling with a keyboard trying to find the right sound, when every preset just sounds naff. If much of Late Style sounds like s much pissing about, then perhaps that’s largely the point: like many experimental albums – Miguel Frasconi’s Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage) captures the artist striving to push a cracked glass bowl to its limits and beyond – Late Style is about taking an opportunity when it presents itself and capturing the outcome. In this sense, it’s a truly experimental work.

The fact that this album, and those mentioned previously, are concerned with the destruction, or death, of an instrument, is significant: the fundamental premise of the avant-garde is that in order to move forward, to create anew, it is first necessary to destroy.

There are also some quite compelling moments to be found here: the surge and swell of ‘OI’ builds an ominous drama, while ‘Key’ is a rather fun exercise is microtonal blippage that sits alongside Mark Fell’s exploratory releases on Editions Mego. However, unlike Fell’s works, Late Style is both more varied and more listenable.

Drömloch - Late Style

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