Posts Tagged ‘Room40’

Room40 – EDRM419 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having released about a thousand albums since first emerging in 1979 (Wikipedia states ‘over 400 recordings’, which still makes for a completists impossible dream), a new Merzbow album still instils a certain glimmer of excitement and anticipation. Perhaps it’s the fact that while Masami Akita’s work sits squarely in the domain of ‘noise’ and the element of surprise is limited when it comes to a new release – there’s no dropping of a sudden and unexpected pop or country album, for example – his capacity to push the parameters of a genre he almost singlehandedly defined means that there’s always something to warrant interest.

Writing on MONOAkuma, a live recording made in Brisbane in 2012 at the Institute Of Modern Art, Lawrence English, the man behind the ROOM40 label, recalls ‘this was the second time I had the pleasure to present him live in Australia. To me, this performance epitomises the physiology of Merzbow’s sound work. He creates in absolutes; sonically he generates a tidal wave of frequency that sweeps across the spectra with tireless frenzy. Merzbow’s capacity to conjure a massive swirling mesh of analog and digital sources is without comparison. His work is one of physiological and psychological intensity; a seething, psychedelic and utterly visceral noise-ocean.’

English continues by noting that ‘2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Merzbow. This recording, which epitomises Merzbow’s 40 years as arguably the most important noise musicians of our time, demonstrates the intense and complex audio world Merzbow has created. It’s the perfect starting point from which to wade into the noise ocean that is Merzbow’s vast output.’

Sidestepping the fact Merzbow has been in existence almost as long as I’ve been alive, I’d be inclined to agree: MONOAkuma is quintessential Merzbow and encapsulates all of the defining features of said vast output.

I’ve personally only witnessed Merzbow once, performing in Glasgow in 2004 – a set which saw him split the signal between the PA and a massive – and I mean immense stack of Marshall cabs. Akita was barely visible, perched atop a wall of speakers that made the combined backline of both Sunn O))) and the Quo look like they’re travelling light. The sound he produced through this set-up was a face-melting, brain-bending, tone-shifting wall of noise. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite the same since.

MONOAkuma, then, contains 50 minutes of classic Merzbow. It begins with s few seconds of scratchy feedback. It tweaks at the nerve-endings. And then the levee breaks and the sonic deluge explodes. All the frequencies, all the tones, all the textures erupt simultaneously and blister and burn and fire in all directions. It’s so dense, so immense, so all-encompassing and immersive: the experience is overwhelming. There is noise, and then there is Merzbow. There is so much detail here… although it’s almost impossible to absorb even a fraction of it with so much, and delivered at such volume. Everything is tossed and churned in a barrelling tempest of relentless abrasion that scours the skull’s interior – select cement mixer / blender / washing machine / oil drill / swirling vortex / apocalypse simile of choice here. Whiplash blasts of funnelling distortion howl and scream in a churning tunnel of overloading distortion, and within six minutes it’s hitting the lower levels of pain and by 21 minutes aural and psychological ruination is achieved. The power lies in the ever-changing textures and tones: there isn’t a second were the sound doesn’t change, and it’s this constant shift that makes it so powerfully challenging, with layer upon layer of howling racket tearing the air to the point of atomization.

Few artists – if any – have the capacity to inflict brain-pulping anguish like Merzbow. This isn’t just nose: it’s all the noise. All at once. Amplified to the power of ten to create screeding, screaming, multi-tonal, multi-faceted blitzkrieg. There is no respite, no space to make shelter. It hurts. And until you’ve experienced Merzbow in full effect, you really haven’t experienced noise. And MONOAkuma is relentless in its assault. This is total noise, relentless, obliterative, devastating.

But as punishing and oppressive as it is, there’s something cleansing and cathartic about it. And herein lies the pleasure of the pain and the ultimate joy of Merzbow.

Please note: All proceeds from MONOAkuma will be used to fund research and preservation attempts for the Tasmanian Devil, which in recent years has suffered greatly due to effects of a transmissible facial cancer.

Merzbow - Mono

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Room40 – RM481 – 13th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg’s first full-length album since the termination of SWANS in its most recent configuration marks something of a departure, both in terms of sound and approach. Having previously recorded his solo works by what he calls his ‘one take; it is what it is’ method, After Vacation is a project of evolution, and also of collaboration, with Lawrence English acting as producer, weaving together the parts to create rich layers. The press release refers to Westberg’s ‘web of outboard processes, with delays, reverbs, and other treatments all transforming the sound of the instrument’s output. And yet After Vacation feels like so much more than this, as the guitar itself fades into the distance beneath the effects. The results are evocative, with careful details overlaid onto the broad washes of sound which define the compositional forms.

The album begins in expansive and haunting style, with what sounds like brooding, atmospheric orchestral strings and tense piano, but the shadowy shade of ‘Soothe the String’, like all of the album’s six pieces, features nothing but guitar. And with it Westberg creates lustrous layers of sound, drifting sonic mists and hazy hues. ‘Sliding Sledding’ forms an immensely deep, slow-turning swirl that moves like vapour, through which single notes ripple as they echo and fade.

The individual compositions are formed through subtle shifts and delicate transitions, and offer distinct and separate moods. However, they melt into one another, to create a vast vista of soft-edged ambience.

The title track which draws the curtain on the set marks a departure from the rest of the album, as Westberg picks at his guitar in an almost folksy fashion, and it sounds like a conventional guitar, although it’s accompanied by an organ-like drone that hovers in a long, unchanging note, which gradually rises to the fore as the plucked notes fade into the distance.

There’s a certain comfort in this conclusion, bringing the listener as it does to more familiar ‘guitar’ territory while still emblematising the experimental, treatment-orientated approach to reconfiguring the sound of the instrument.

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AA

Norman Westberg - After Vacation

ROOM40 – RM491 – 12th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not even as much as a distant rumble. It’s barely the sound of air. An uneven hum eventually creeps into the realm of audible perception, but it’s still so quiet as to be questionable: is my mind playing tricks? Am I imagining sound to fill the silence. The whir of the disc in the player is still louder, and stands to the fore because of its higher pitch. But no, the rumble is growing now. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes or more, but now, the sound is upon me, and it’s like an approaching helicopter, thick, beating the air. It reaches a point of sustained crescendo, from whence if continues to grow, from a low roar to an excruciating multi-tonal blitz that fills the room and fills my head. Treble whines and drones above the gut-clenching low-end and scrapes. It makes for an intense and unsettling ten and a half minutes, and I’m reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori in the way the piece’s power stems not only from the detail of tone, texture and volume: the shifts are gradual, but definite. And then it stops. Silence. The contrast. The silence is more bewildering than the noise, at first.

Thus I am introduced to the work of Australian artist Thembi Soddell. Love Songs is an exploration and articulation of experiences of ‘insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships, in connection to certain forms of mental illness.’ The album succeeds in that Soddell conveys the relatable, if not necessarily the universal, in the personal. Without the specificity of lyrical content, the listener is necessarily invited, even compelled, to pour their own experience into the spaces in the sound, to interact with the moments of dissonance and discomfort.

At times eerie and tense, at others calm, yet always with a certain undercurrent of unease, Love Songs is every bit as dark as the cover art implies. The accompanying text summarises it nicely, saying ‘it’s equal parts horror, anxiety, relief and exhilaration, often in the same instant.’

‘Repetition Compulsion’ alternates hushed passages with seering screeds of noise which halt abruptly and unexpectedly, and if ‘Who is to Blame’ employs the same type of approach, the explosions of noise are of an altogether different intensity, an all-out wall of noise that’s full Whitehouse at times, although Soddell’s focus on tonal variety is the key point of interest here. The final composition, ‘Epilogue’ returns to the territory explored on the first, ‘Object (Im)Permanence’, beginning as silence before erupting into a sustained, violent, sonic assault. The screaming upper frequencies are pure torture, and as the howl and whine of the sounds fuse to form an oppressive, painful and impenetrable wall, it feels like it will never end. And you want to… but equally, you don’t. I let the sound engulf me and a certain energy courses through me. Where is the release? There. Finally, in the arrival of silence. The end.

AA

AThembi Soddell – Love Songs

Someone Good – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

David Toop enthuses over Haco as ‘weightless, not so much a voice from heaven but a voice that swirls in liquidity, water spirit…’ In this, he probably gets as close to capturing the essence of Haco’s music as its possible. It’s a challenge for any writer when presented with sonic abstraction: how to render the intangible tangible, and at the same time convey the experience of sound in words?

The music on Qoosui is not easy – and in fact almost impossible – to pin down. An analogy to catching a cloud is close, but not right: the seven pieces exist in a state somewhere between liquid and vapour, and flow in multiple directions seemingly simultaneously. Rippling synths slowly bubble as wash aquatically on ‘Kusul’, and paves the way for a sequence of amorphous, drifting compositions which drift and tether. Crystalline shards cut through cloud-like washes on ‘White Letter from Heaven’, and Haco’s voice is seemingly not of the human body, transcendental, and not of this world.

This is, in many respects, the source and heart of Qoosui: inspired by spirit voices, Haco becomes one. The medium is the message on every level.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/224449651

AAA

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Room40 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In certain circles at least, Tony Buck requires little to no introduction as the percussionist of longstanding Australia purveyors of avant-jazz trio The Necks.

Unearth is an immense departure in many respects, not least of all in that it not a percussion-led composition. His first solo work, recorded over a number of years, is an expansive, long-form piece spanning some fifty-one and a half minutes.

It’s a quiet, unsettling composition, with layered sounds building and overlapping, dark rumbles and drones juxtaposing with vague clattering incidentals, hisses, scrapes, hums, drips, plops and thuds.

Around the fifteen-minute mark, conventional instrumentation emerge, with ratting percussion, sonorous bass notes and picked guitar strings drifting across sampled voices and fragmented field recordings. However, it’s clear that the tension isn’t about to break any time soon, and nor is Buck about to unleash a square slice of rock tunage. Plinks, plonks and rattles shade across creaks and yawning ultra-low bass which hangs dense and heavy in the air.

There is a transitory moment of graceful musicality around the half-hour point, where chiming guitars and irregular, delicate percussion combine to create a subtle passage that’s ethereal, atmospheric and pure post-rock. And here comes the build: cymbals clatter and crash in a rising crescendo; gongs boom, and a tempest of sound rises as if from nowhere, as the treble of electronic bleeps cut through the evolving cacophony.

Things to settle into a less disturbing, less abrasive roll of swirling ambience thereafter, with chanks and chinks trembling over skittering sinews of sound stretched over weary, low-end drones which crawl and scratch.

Nothing about Unearth is easy or accessible, although Buck’s grasp on the slow-evolving dynamic of the longform composition is abundantly clear as the gradual transitions flow s effortlessly as to be unnoticeable.

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Tony Buck -Unearth

‘Negative Drone’ is one third of a final suite on the record, born out of his own research into the sound of fear and the weaponisation of audio over the past few decades. It is a piece about “recognising that technologies with huge promise tend to fall into particular tropes that are pre-existent and reflect cycles of power and capital interests.” Lawrence continues to describe how his research led him to all manner of surveillance and target acquisition footage from drones and other military craft… “Needless to say it was harrowing viewing, but it very much made me recognise the dynamic shifts erupting just beyond our everyday horizons. We don’t tend to think about these things, what they are used for and what it is they could be used for. We just assume that their uses are somehow prefigured. For most of us these machines and the implications they carry are distant and in some way unthinkable, but for other peoples across the world their sound alone is enough to bring terror and anxiety. I found this a powerful question to explore and the composition grew out of it. In fact the final third of the album grew from this particular line of investigation.”

Musically, ‘Negative Drone’, featuring Norman Westberg and Thor Harris of Swans, Werner Defeldecker and The Australian Voices, was one of the final pieces to come be completed on the record. It is also one of a number of pieces in which Lawrence plays pipe organ, recorded on what was once the largest organ in Queensland, the state he resides in.

Expanding investigations into the politics of perception, and exploring the possibilities of new recording processes, technologies, locations and relationships, as well as conveying different sonic textures, Cruel Optimism is ultimately a record that considers power (present and absent). It meditates on how power consumes, augments and ultimately shapes two subsequent human conditions: obsession and fragility.

We’re big fans of Lawrence English and Room40 here at AA (as our many reviews of the label’s output attest) and the indications are that this could be one of his strongest works yet. Check out ’Negative Drone’ here:

 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/194648555

 

ROOM40 – EDRM426 – 4th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one for the David Lynch fans, but also fans of experimental industrial noise, and those who appreciate works which exist in the realms between media.

Factory Photographs was one of a number of commissions made by the curator of the exhibition David Lynch: Between Two Worlds, a retrospective exhibition held at Brisbane’s Galley of Modern Art in 2015. The exhibition featured Lynch’s works in painting, sculpture, installation and photography, and included a large section of his Factory Photographs: shots of factories in various states of disuse, taken over several decades.

Raised in the country, surrounded by woods and farms, Lynch developed a fascination with the architecture, the machines and ‘the smoke and fear’ of factories from his visits to his mother’s native Brooklyn. HEXA is Laurence English and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), and Factory Photographs is their sonic response to Lynch’s images.

While Lawrence English’s work is often typified by a delicate approach to sound and the use of delicate field recordings, it’s clear that the inspiration and the collaborative input of Stewart have pulled him toward something altogether more visceral: Factory Photographs is an intense and brutal work.

‘Sledge’ rumbles and crashes in with some heavy noise, an amorphous roar barrels and funnels a dense sonic cloud, from amidst which shuddering throbs grind and thrum. Each piece is a blast of earthmoving noise, more evocative of a super-scaled atomic destruction than heavy industry or its demise and dilapidation. Yet as noise without clear definition or shape, it’s still highly evocative, and does correspond with Lynch’s conception of ‘the ideal factory location’, with ‘no real nature…’ This is sound which is brutal, harsh, unrelenting and unnatural, wholly man-man made yet wholly inhuman. The barrage of noise is built from a conglomeration of hums drones and thunderous sounds on sounds, roiling, churning. The rhythms are not percussive, but born from cyclical undulations, the churn of industry at its heaviest, in its earthiest form: the mine, the quarry, the drilling rig, the smelting of ore and the forging of metals. But of course these are only echoes of an industrial past: the factories lie empty now, derelict or inching toward dereliction, and the workers have gone, transferred, replaced, relocated, on the same scrapheap as the rusted machinery or otherwise forced into alternative careers.

As crushingly depressing as the factory may have been, its absence leaves only a lack and the question of progress, but as what cost? But equally, the earth-gouging sounds of Factory Photographs reminds of the finite nature of the earth’s resources, in particular fossil fuels. What is left apart from irreparable scars on the landscape once every last scrap has been excavated? Where is the future?

Dark, sonorous notes hang heavy on ‘A Breath’, and Factory Photographs is rich in gloomy atmosphere. Sheet metal thunder resonates through vast empty spaces, and clusters of clangs reverberate in the grimy darkness to create a bleak and oppressive sensation. The turbulent roar of ‘Vertical Horizons’ is harrowing and unforgiving, building to a shrieking howl of feedback while the regular rhythm of heavy machinery rotating is replicated on ‘Over Horizontal Plains’, while thuds and distant rumbles continue endlessly beneath. Digging, dredging…

It’s unsettling but exciting, and the prospect of an audiovisual work, featuring, with Lynch’s approval, the original visual montage of his photographs in 2017 is a thrilling one. Meanwhile, the album more than works in its own right as a dark, stark and uncomfortable collection of pieces which shake the listener’s sensibilities and leaves a hollow, uneasy sensation in its wake.

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0775137879_10.jpg