Posts Tagged ‘Merzbow’

Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS039

Christopher Nosnibor

We live in a world of noise. We live in a decaying, post-industrial world. The so-called developing world is on an inexorable trajectory toward the same calamitous end, a world of tertiary industry and a level of noise – literal and metaphorical – which the framework of postmodern hinted at and but failed to fully appreciate the totality of its eventuality. To contextualise Natural Incapacity requires a certain grounding in postmodernism and the idea of a society defined by information overload. But, to reframe my comment on the shortcomings of postmodern theory, it essentially fails to account for the impact of the culture on those who find themselves existing in that culture. What have we done in making such technological leaps with so little consideration for the psychological consequences? Has the human mind evolved at a pace correspondent with the technologies we’ve made? What does the infinite noise actually sound like in the middle of that blizzard of information?

Natural Incapacity is an immense work, with a total running time of some two and a quarter hours across its two discs. Housed in a hand-rusted cover produced by Jim Haynes, this is serious art. The album soundtracks not the external noise so much as it does perhaps the internal noise, and the experience of the collapse of everything into an amorphous cyclone of everything happening all at once. The human brain simply isn’t built for the world in which we find ourselves. There’s so much talk of ‘white noise,’ but ultimately, total overload is an entirely different kind of noise, an explosive noise, simultaneously conveyed as the sound of collapse, of panic, anguish, and screaming despair.

Disc one is the shorter of the two, with has a running time of an hour and two minutes. A dark, quiet rumble soon breaks into a dense, harsh wall of sound. Tidal waves crash and planets explode in slow-motion, creating layer upon layer of textured noise that pounds the senses relentlessly. This is heavy, brutal stuff. The violent turbulence is punishing, effecting a psychological disturbance. The moments of calm are but brief and heavy with tension, the suspense of how and when the next wave of noise will erupt. And erupt it invariably does, tearing the fabric of the atmosphere, an annihilative volume of atomic force.

There’s no obvious shift moving onto disc two, but the effect of so much oppressively dense, murky and irredeemably inhospitable noise is cumulative. As the time crawls on, one senses the walls slowly moving closer, the light and oxygen gradually being pushed from the room and the life slipping from one’s soul.

Hums and whirs offer cold comfort in this funnelling fermentation of foul decay as factories collapse in slow-motion under the weight of so-called progress. The absence of vocals renders this even more disturbing, in that there are no obvious signs of human life to be discerned in the churning melee. As such, were reminded of our ultimate obsolescence, and there can be no bleaker prospect than that. Natural Incapacity is nihilistic in the absolute, a soundtrack to the end of time.

 

Relay for Death - Natural Incapacity

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The Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS040 – 2nd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

My first encounter with the work of Jim Haynes (the musician, not the writer who rose to a degree of cult prominence in the 1960s) came when The Decline Effect landed with me in 2011. Haynes’ territory is the dark, the ambient, the subterranean, but Throttle and Calibration is an altogether harsher work, which emerged from Haynes’ 2015 residency at MoKS in Estonia, where he would collaborate with and contribute to Simon Whetham’s Active Crossover series.

As the blub accompanying the release on the label’s website explains, ‘Throttle and Calibration is the first in a series of albums that find Haynes digging through the Active Crossover archive and grotesquely exaggerating the details into exploded compositions of volatile dynamics, nerve-exposed dissonance, caustic shortwave signal abuse, and a considerable amount of scarred metal. Marked as one of the more discordant works to date in Haynes’ career, Throttle and Calibration finds company near the atonal compositions from Hermann Nitsch and the sour, industrial collages that pock the Nurse With Wound catalogue. Previously released digitally on Crónica, Throttle & Calibration is fleshed out with an additional 20 minutes of material.’ This time around, the augmented digital release is also accompanied by a cassette edition. But, sadly, no vinyl, and no CD. Sadly because

As the blurb which accompanies the release intimates, discordant is it, and Throttle and Calibration does, most certainly, slot into the space where industrial and avant-garde intersect, and this reissue, expanded to eight tracks from the original five, is an essential work within its field. The album finds Haynes in exploratory mode, and he delves deep into the granular elements of sound over the course of this challenging work.

A long, buffeting rumble, like a distant train or the sound of wind on a mountain-top (if there is no-one there to hear it, does the wind still roar around the rocks?) is the first sound. The harrowing bleakness is but short-lived. Explosive blasts of noise rip and tear like detonations, atmosphere and ear-shredding eruptions. Small sonic ruptures are rendered at such volume and intensity as to inflict sensory and psychological.

What exactly is this? The Arctic wind ripping through an empty water tower? Or the apocalypse? It could be either, and may be both. It’s disorientating as well as full-on. Throttle & Calibration is an album which places sound under the microscope, so to speak. It’s not microtonal, but it is microcosmic, at least on the one hand. But in placing its focus on a small corner of the scene, Haynes then blows it up to A3 and zooms in 500%. The effect is terrifying, bewildering, intense, and the results are immense. In Haynes’ hands, mundane sounds are reforged and take on sinister dimensions. His addressing them from alternative perspectives – up close, amplified – is the key to building a new understanding.

A quiet rattle is annihilated by a roar which melts all definition into a whirling multitextural aural vortex in ‘Tabula Rasa’, and over the course of the album, Haynes repeatedly drags the listener through a succession of vertiginous sonic sinkholes. Single impacts – origins unknown and undisclosed – resonate and decay slowly n heavy atmosphere. The spoken word introduction to ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ sets an eerie tone, but this again is devastated in a tinnitus-inducing wall of screeding noise worthy of Merzbow at his most brutal.

It takes time and focus to peer through the harsh noise to discern the textures. Like stepping into the dark from a brightly-illuminated interior space, it takes time to recalibrate the senses. There are quieter passages, but they’re no less intense and no lighter in tone. Ominous monotone drones and hums hang for aeons; time is suspended in space.

Neither the full-throttle abrasion nor the shady, moody spells of dank mental torture offer anything by way of respite or levity: Jim Haynes is an artist who dwells in darkness and creates work that ranges from the darkest greys to the pitchest of blacks. Throttle & Calibration stands at the darker, more violent end of the spectrum. Uncomfortable unpleasant, and unforgiving, it’s a well-realised plunge into the bowels of a new shade of, rendered from the terrains of the everyday.

 

Jim Haynes – Throttle and Calibration

Hallow Ground – HG1606 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reiner Van Houdt presents an interesting proposition: a classically-trained pianist who’s worked with John Cage and Luc Ferrari, he also plays in Current 93 and has worked in collaboration with Nick Cave, John Zorn and Antony Hegarty. The fact this release is on the Hallow Ground label should perhaps give an indication that this is no soft neoclassical effort – although I’m in no way criticising neoclassical music here: I’m simply saying that this dos not sit within the field, and is harder, harsher, heavier, at least in places. There are no neat melodic structures to be found on Paths of the Errant Gaze, and no instrumentation which sits within the classical bracket: this is very much an electronic album.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to this. Paths of the Errant Gaze is an album which is extremely quiet, sparse, minimal, and the detail – and the quantity of source material involved in its creation – are not immediately apparent. Just as Burroughs and Gysin theorised on the power of ‘The Third Mind’ through the act of collaboration, so Van Houdt believes the act of recording creates a ‘third ear’. And so it is that Van Houdt built Paths of the Errant Gaze from myriad recordings gathered from a near-infinite array of locations.

‘The Fabric of Loss’ creeps ominously, scraping strings like creaking doors echo in the still air as dust motes descend silently, ‘Orphic Asylum’ introduces the first semblance of rhythms, murky, clanking, developing to extended bursts of bass-end noise and a thumping, trudging beat which plots treacherously through an unnervingly dark sonic labyrinth. Even when near-silence encroaches, there remains a dark, oppressive atmosphere in the air. Sparse piano notes and a Scott Walker-esque vocal emerge briefly from the dense sonic fog on TR 5, but neither does much to orientate or ground the listener.

There is no indication of the sounds captured by Van Houdt being your common or garden field recordings – in fact, the ‘everyday objects, situations and moments’ which Van Houdt records obsessively are all but lost amidst the process of forming a sonic melange. Nor does Van Houdt utilise these soundpieces in a conventional way: one does not get a sense of Paths of the Errant Gaze existing as a collage work. Paths of the Errant Gaze is not a work which is encumbered by a sense of pretence, and nor does its theoretical or conceptual framework impinge unduly on the end product.

The ten-minute ‘Transfinite Spectre’ is an all-out sonic assault worthy of Merzbow, as laser-guided blasts crackle and fizz, top-end treble drilling directly into the brain through the ear to create maximum discomfort.

 

Reinier Van Houdt - Paths of the Errant Gaze

Ventil – V004

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been impressed by the Kutin / Kindlinger / Kubisch / Godoy collaboration, Decomposition I-III, released on Austrian label Ventil Records, I was eager to get my lugs around Manuell Knapp’s latest offering, which purports to see the Vienna/Tokyo based artist depart from his ‘analogue home-turf to go exploring in the digital fields’. None of this forewarns of the fact that he pours napalm over every last inch of every field in a five-hundred-mile radius and hurls an incendiary missile straight into the middle of it just a few moments into this devastating album.

There’s something stark and straightforward about the track listing for this release: AZOTH Side A and AZOTH Side B. In a way, it gives the listener a blank frame in which to place the music, and equally, it gives nothing away.

The synthesised plucked chimes follow warped Kyoto motifs, while explosions blast all around. The contrast between tranquil folk tropes and the sound of a war raging makes for an unusual and unsettling experience. Gradually, the notes become increasingly dissonant until, before long, all semblance of musicality is obliterated in an ear-splitting wall of noise and rubble. From the wreckage emerges dark, chthonic drones, monstrous, alien sighs, which tear from a whisper to a scream. It’s fucking brutal. Brief moments of tinkling synths taunt the listener with the prospect of respite before the next merciless, neuron-melting assault. Brief moments occur where the noise and the fear chords emerge simultaneously, inviting comparisons to Prurient, but for the most part, AZOTH is the kind of atomizing noise attack that’s Merzbow’s trademark.

Knapp certainly grasps the power of frequency – and volume – and uses the two in combination to achieve optimal sonic torture. When it comes to overloading sonic noise, just when it seems impossible to push the circuitry any further, Knapp tweaks it a bit more, amping up the shrieking blast of noise to levels beyond madness, pummelling the listener from every angle with snarling bass noise competing with a shrill, jagged, high-end squall. While many noise recordings are generic or plain lacking in imagination – Harsh Noise Wall being a particularly dire example of how derivative noise-related subgenres can be, and the moribund nature of concept music centred around a weak, one-dimensional concept, Knapp is attuned to the importance of dynamics and textural variation.

Knapp also knows about art and exploitation: the vinyl version is released in an edition of just 15 copies, each with unique, hand-painted art, and comes with a price tag of €666. Amusing in an ionic way, it’s worth noting that at the time of writing, only five copies remain. This is the kind of release that won’t have broad appeal, or, indeed, much appeal at all in he scheme of things, but will always attract some truly fanatical devotees – and speculative purchasers with cash to burn. But in all seriousness, viewed from a broader perspective beyond merely sound, AZOTH is a work of art. And, ultimately, the sound is art too. It is, of course art, of a challenging, avant-garde nature, rather than of the entertaining, accessible, poster and postcard reproduction variety.

Side 2 marks a change of tone and begins with rumbling, dark ambience and hints at being something of a counterpoint to Side 1. The low, ominous drones eddy bleakly around in a tense, turbulent atmosphere. And then the screeding feedback tears through, while a growling drone worthy of Sunn O))) blasts beneath, and in an instant, everything is fucked. Total aural annihilation ensues amidst an avalanche of flanged laser bomb detonations fire in all directions: it’s bewildering, overwhelming.

The totality of the blitz is all-encompassing. AZOTH is about as uncompromising as can be.

 

AZOTH

Karlrecords – KR024 – 15th July 2016

Edward S. Robinson

How I hadn’t encountered the work of Iannis Xenakis previously, I will never know. Nevertheless, it was at the 2016 European Beat Studies Network conference that I first saw – and then heard – examples of his work, courtesy of Antonio Bonome in his talk on ‘Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points’. The crazy, three-dimensional graphs, or polytopes, which accompanied Metastasis were utterly mind-bending. Given that I’m neither a musician nor a mathematician, they didn’t mean a great deal to me, but as visual pieces, they were stunning. Conceptually, Xenakis’ fusing of two disciplines, music and architecture, breaks new ground in itself, with the combination of architecture and music translating to the architecture of music. And then Bonome played the sounds these images represented. Huge, extended, quivering, brain-draining walls of sound. Powerful, immense, they seemingly took solid physical form. This was truly something.

La Legende d’Eer was composed in 1977 and 1978, when Xenakis was in the midst of his far-reaching explorations of mythology and philosophy. La Legende d’Eer is another of Xenakis’ monumental polytopes, and was created to mark the opening of the Pompidou Centre in 1978. While previous editions have presented the music as a single track and across different releases, featuring an array of errors, this latest reissue from Karlrecords (which makes the work available on vinyl and download for the first time), uses the eight track version Xenakis himself presented at Darmstädter in 1978.

La Legende d’Eer represents one of Xenakis’ most renowned and celebrated electroacoustic compositions, and is a challenging work to sat the least. Not being musically minded in the compositional sense, or scientifically minded in the sense of the technicalities of the mechanics and frequencies and all that jazz, I’m perhaps rather ill-equipped to respond to the fullness of Xnenakis’ objectives and achievements. As such, this is less of an academic analysis and more of a straightforward review, and pulled more from the gut than drawn from anywhere else. However, this is sound which elicits a cerebral, emotional and physical response first and foremost. This is extreme music, which many would likely dispute even constitutes music, and a similarly extreme response is surely a natural one.

Those who are wired to actually derive enjoyment from it are likely a very small minority, but one I happen to belong to. The eight tracks segue together, and begins as a series of trilling whistles of feedback, building into a screeding, shrill mesh of treble, howling drones and pained hums that bow, bend and scrape. If sounds reminiscent of Whitehouse (the resemblance of ‘Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel’ to moments on track seven is remarkable, but then the twittering, jittering top-end noises Xenakis creates are also very like those which make up the majority of the Great White Death album) and the entirety of the careers of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori can be heard, then La Legende d’Eer marks the foundation stone of power electronics and noise. Amidst the earthwork rumbles and the buzzing swarms of hornets and the atomic detonations, shrieks, rattles and crashed are churned together to form a huge, excruciating aural assault.

Acute listening reveals complex internal polyrhythms of the sonic vibrations as they bounce together and against one another. And as the tones and velocity of the sounds shift, so the rhythms change. Indeed, La Ledenge d’Eer is a work in which sound is in perpetual flux. Bleeping arcade game sounds bubble from a tidal wave of noise which resembles a landfill sit’s worth of tin cans, blooping laser modulations surge and swell before devouring themselves and being carried away in an avalanche of static and pink noise. Extraneous jazz honks through a kaleidoscope of sparkling circuitry and low-end interference. In short, there’s a lot going on, and what goes on changes over the course of the piece(s).

It’s a three-dimensional attack on the senses, designed to inflict maximum disorientation and temporal dislocation. And it succeeds. It will necessarily and inevitably twist the psyche and create an almost indefinable sense of discomfort, and it doesn’t require a mathematical equation to calculate the unsettling effects of the sound on the listener. 38 years after its composition and it’s still an astounding and quite devastating work.

 

Iannis Xenakis - La Legende d'Eer