Posts Tagged ‘unsettling’

Room40 – 2nd June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been engrossed by Lawrence English’s works for some years now, and my appreciation of him and his methods were only enhanced when I conducted an interview with him about ten years ago for a now-defunct site (so many are now: the idea that once online it’s there forever has been proven false, and we’re all sitting, bewildered by as rapidly-vanishing archive of the recent past), where we touched on cut-ups and William Burroughs and I was struck by the depth of his knowledge and references.

But I have grave concerns around future history, or the future of history. While the move to digital was hailed as a move toward permanence, incorruptibility, the opposite has proved true. No-one writes anything down anymore, no-one produces additional. tape copies. If your hard-drive gets fucked, so does your entire library. The Cloud? Do you even know where it is? Does it even exist?

While we reflect on this, let us also consider this album and its slow gestation. David Toop is another artist I’ve spent some time listening to, and writing about, including his Breathing Spirit Forms three-way collaboration with Akio Suzuki and Lawrence English, but this is the first time just the pair of them have worked together, and Lawrence explains its evolution as follows: ‘Over the years, David and I have shared an interest in both the material and immaterial implications of sound (amongst other things). Moreover we’ve connected many times on matters which lies at the fringes of how we might choose to think about audition, our interests seeking in the affective realm that haunts, rather than describes, experience. The Shell That Speaks The Sea very much resonates from this shared fascination… I’m not exactly sure when we first mooted this duet, but I sense its initial trace is now more than a decade ago. I tend to live by the motto of ‘right place, right time’ and I believe David likely also subscribes to this methodology. A couple of years ago, David and I reignited the duet conversation and began exchanging materials. As a jumping off point, I explored a series of field recordings that, for me at least, captured something of this affective haunting that I mentioned previously’.

And haunting it is: ghosts of memories and fragments of half-recollections lurk and loom amidst the thick, dark shadows forged by the unsettling sounds. The title suggests an album of soft ambient washes, a gentle tidal swash, a soothing, tranquil work. It is not.

‘Abyssal Tracker’ is remarkably atmospheric in a sparse, gloomy, sense, and provides a fitting introduction to the duo’s idiosyncratic work, compiling sighs and vocal rasps over elongated strains of feedback and a suffocating atmosphere. Shrill shrieks echo out over eerie notes and a scratching insectoid clamour in the trebly range. Thuds ripple beneath the surface: there is so much texture and detail here, you find yourself looking about nervously, seeking the various sources and to see what’s over your shoulder, or hovering above your head.

Clanks and clatters and clanks and thuds are the dominant features of this album, and is lasers fire into the abyss of emptiness on the dense and disturbing ‘Reading Bones’, which scratches and scrapes, while there are earth-churning low-range disturbances – and words, but they’re indecipherable, spoken in low, whispering grunts, and it’s impossible to decipher even the language, sounding as it does like an ancient incantation.

It’s not all quite so skin-pricklingly tense, but much of it is: ‘Mouth Cave’ is dark, dank, low and rumbling, but has textures and what sounds like the trickle of running water spattering in the background amidst the cavernous gloom, and if ‘Whistling in the Dark’ sounds like a simplistic description, it’s accurate – but also suspenseful, scary and bordering on horror tropes; the whistling is deranged and floats through a heavy, crackling doomy drone. There are more ominous mutterings amidst the creeping darkness of ‘The Chair’s Story’, which feels like casting a look back through the ages through a thick fog at scenes of torture and pain and great sorrow and forward, to a laser-bleeping future.

As I seem to be prone to lately, I found myself nodding through fatigue but also, simultaneously, tense and alert during The Shell That Speaks The Sea, an album which possesses vast sonic expanses and a bleak, oppressive atmosphere. Each track offers something different, and this only accentuates the ‘otherness’ of the music this album contains; it’s like walking through a series of disturbing dreams, whereby each scene presents a new unfamiliar setting, and there are hints of BBC Radiophonic Workshop and vintage sci-fi about this incredibly imaginative work.

It may have taken a long time to piece together, but the results make the labour more than worthwhile.



Möller Records – 23rd March 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s clear that while the pandemic is officially over, collectively, we’re still very much coming to terms with it, and its aftermath. Lockdown, in particular, has had a deep psychological impact, on so many. Everyone’s experience was, and is, different, of course. I have friends who almost deny to themselves that it happened, that it was a dream or something, and for some of us, in some respects, it’s as though it never ended. This is how people deal with shock and trauma.

My Heart of Noise is not a pandemic album, a lockdown album, a post-trauma album, but as Elif explains, the album “began with a collection of studio and concert recordings from my travels north before the pandemic. It became like a puzzle: I could hear something special, but also that the pieces didn’t fit together well or feel complete. The breakthrough came in realising that this project was meant to be more about creation than preservation, and that it didn’t need to be a literal document any more. It could still be faithful, but instead to the spirit that inspired this music and my travels in the first place, instead of a particular recording. I created new musical starting points, and invited artists I met on my travels plus others, asking them to choose one to begin to work with together. Some artists incorporated our previous recordings, others set off in a new direction, while I shaped the pieces and found a way to connect them together.”

Recent history, then, is marked not as BC and AD, but BP and AP – before pandemic and after pandemic, and My Heart Of Noise reflects Yalvaç’s attempts to ‘make sense of a noisy world’. And the world is indeed, noisy, and difficult to articulate. There is simply too much noise too much happening all at once. It’s a perpetual sensory overload.

For this, her debut album, Elif Yalvaç involved a number of the people she encountered along the way of her journey, and the title also references this, the way she became the hub in a collective process.

The collaborative aspect means that each track does have a slightly different feel, despite all being centred around eerie ambient soundscapes.

‘Orchestra of Light’, the album’s first track, is a layered composition of dronies and hums and whispers which drift and swirl around some of the mind’s darker recesses. The textures and tones rub against one another and the edges aren’t all smooth, with buzzes and barbed, drilling sounds grating against the grain, meaning there’s a certain friction, a tension, creating a sense of discomfort.

‘Gate Check’, which follows, is softer, but the notes bend and twist and the supple, mellow tones are spun with a sense of the awkward and the uncanny, but nothing so warped as ‘Mielmaisema’, with its collage of human vocalisations and clunking clumps of thuds and thumps Amid whirls and crackles and hums, from which grinding groans of decaying Krautrock creak. It may be less than five minutes in duration but it packs a lot of shiversome strangeness into its short space, in which even chirruping birdsong feels somehow unsettling.

My Heart of Noise is not an overtly collage-based album, but it does assemble many sources and sounds, and often overlaps and overlays them to disquieting effect, and I’m at times reminded of vintage sci-fi and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

‘Cloud Score’ sits somewhere between post-rock and classic drifting ambience, while seven-minute closer ‘Taiga II’ very much feels like the lifting of the clouds and the breaking into light, but at the same time feels like a storm building on the horizon, and ‘Dronasaurus’ indicates that it’s not 100% serious 100% of the time.

My Heart of Noise is a restless work, one which ventures and explores, and never for a moment settles into comfort or conformity. It is not an easy album: whenever things feel like they’re settling into something nice, a cloud of disruption and difficulty will drift over and raise a shiver. You can never really settle or feel at ease with My Heart of Noise – but as a representation off life in the world as is, this is a fair summary. Keep your eyes and ears open: there is always something around the corner.



Bizarreshampoo – 11th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The last time we heard from Ukranian purveyor of brutal noise, Vitauct, it was the scouring noise abrasion of Breaking Bad back in the spring of 2020; before that, it was the split album with Crepuscular Entity in December 2019. It turns out there’s a whole lot of activity that’s happened in between, including a fair few split releases, and this latest offering is yet another, this time with Georgia-based ცოდნის მფლობელები, an artist who, in his own words ‘uses field recordings to create tracks that try to communicate different states of mind’, and explains that within his work, ‘there is a certain tension and expectation next to a piano taken from some informal performance.

The release is available on double cassette and CD, although the way it’s laid out would also lend itself well to four sides of vinyl, with each artists contributing two fifteen-minute / side-long compositions, alternating, with Vitauct occupying sides A and C, and ცოდნის მფლობელები occupying sides B and D.

The first piece, ‘Search’ is perhaps more ‘Destroy’: a tearing wave of harsh noise that simply blasts the sense for quarter of an hour straight with barely no perceptible variation, it’s practically HNW, bar some subtle shifts and reverberations of pain echoing in the background. It howls and screams, but mostly it’s like the sound of ground zero of an atomic bomb, and it just goes on, and on, without mercy, shredding the air and blasting away at the organs from the inside.

‘თვალთვალი’, the first of the two tracks from ცოდნის მფლობელები, offers a quite different tone and atmosphere. The sound is murky, swampy, almost subaquatic in its drowned muffledness, and there’s a low, slow, rhythmic rise and fall like a tidal current that drags you along in surging increments, pulling, then releasing a little, before pulling again. It’s dense – suffocatingly so – and gurgles, dark and abstract while creating some kind of sensory deprivation that becomes more intense and unnerving the longer it persists. Everything slows. Nothing happens. It feels as if time has stalled, and you’re hanging in suspended animation, unable to speak, unable to move, incapacitated and simply floating, paralysed. You start to find interest in the most granular detail, in the same way you wonder if you need to go over parts of a wall you’ve just painted because you can’t be sure if you’ve missed a bit or it’s just drying faster than other areas. You wonder how long you will remain trapped here, if the nightmare will ever end, if, indeed, you will ever escape to the surface. It’s a long and torturously slow fifteen minutes, and when it does finally end, you’re left feeling limp, drained.

And then it’s back for round two: with ‘Uncertainty’, Vitauct brings a crackling fizz of overloading static and digital distortion that sounds like your speaker cones are torn. It’s a tonal / textural combination that’s almost guaranteed to disrupt the equilibrium because it simply sounds like everything is fucked – both your equipment and your hearing – and sets a churning in the pit of the stomach. This could perhaps be some kind of auditory trick of sorts that sets the listener off balance, like an infection or damage in the inner ear. It’s painful, but as an example of devastating mid-range harsh noise, it’s outstanding.

‘იდეოლოგიის მეტრონომი’ is the final piece, another fifteen minutes of murky, bubbling babbling. This time, it feels speeded up, and the bubbling babbling sounds like a large gathering of people, chattering excitedly underwater, while a stream of analogue synth streams and stammers in a sustained state of agitation. It’s an unheimlich, otherly experience that’s unsettling and uncomfortable – which is a fair summary of this release as a whole.

If its hour duration seems daunting, in some respects I suspect that’s part of the intention: this is not a release for noise casuals, but that hardcore who have real staying power and probably something of a masochistic streak. For such a niche genre, the amount of material it has yielded – and continues to yield – is astronomical, and it’s not always easy to differentiate the quality form the lethargic, but as we’ve come to expect from Vitauct and his pairings, this is strong stuff.



Misanthropic Agenda – MAR057 – 7th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Dave Phillips’ new album is quite explicit: it’s an album dedicated to death. He explains this in the liner notes, ‘not death the spectre that installs horror and fear in many (in the western world), nor death the enemy of the (western) for-profit medical system, but death as part of a cycle, like birth. death the only certainty in life. dying, like living, as something that can be done well – or not. death also something that can be a release, a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom.’

The album, which he directs the listener to play as one continuous session, was inspired by his father’s illness, deterioration and death, and being his carer for the 15 last months of his life, and was, poignantly, sent off to press in early June 2021, when his father died. This clearly makes To Death an incredibly personal work.

Perhaps predictably, To Death is a dark album. Predictably, not primarily because of the subject matter, but because my last encounter with Phillips’ work – 2014’s Homo Animalis – was pretty dark, too, although he’s done a hell of a lot since then. And for Phillips’ observation that death can be ‘a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom’, death is rarely seen as a cause for elation or celebration in the human psyche, particularly in the west, where there is a deep-rooted fear of death, and a culture that promotes prolonging and preserving life at all costs, regardless of quality. Death is perceived as a loss, something devastating, and to be avoided at all costs, and I’m forever presented with news items and comments on social media about people who have died in their 70s or 80s – particularly during the pandemic – having been ‘taken before their time’. But when is their time? Everyone has a time, and everyone has to die of something, and the state of denial about the inevitability of death is psychologically detrimental.

But as the title of the album’s second track says it so succinctly, ‘fear of death = fear of life’. A life lived in fear of death is no life at all. Of course, an awareness of death is something else entirely. You have to take some risks to know you’re actually alive. How many people say on their death bed that they were glad they did nothing in case it killed them? There’s a clear theme to this album, both sonically and in the tiles: ‘everyone dies, not everyone lives’ is the perfect encapsulation of Phillips’ ethos. It also manifests as a dolorous booming drone like a ship’s horn juxtaposed with maniacal shouting, distorted and raw, and very much in the vein of Prurient. As such, Phillips articulates beyond words and reaches into the very core of the psyche.

Ominous drones that hum and buzz hover unsettlingly and uncomfortably, eddying around whispered words, barely audible during the ten-minute first track, ‘a cycle completed’. What is it about whispers in darkness that we find so unnerving? Gradually, ponderous bass notes and dubious creaking sounds enter the mix as the drones become more tense and eerie.

The third piece, ‘to death we all go, the sooner the better’ is filled with agonised shrieks and howls and pain and anguish – and the title conveys a sentiment I can truly buy into. Humanity is a scourge, and the worst of all plagues on the planet.

Listening to the album in a single sitting is certainly a powerful experience, and there is some dense, challenging noise, and things grow darker and doomier as the album progresses: a stark piano note chinks out and is quickly submerged in a wheezing drone and more muttered narrative on ‘real catastrophe’ which plunges deep into underground rumblings. ‘We are the virus…’ he whispers amidst a soup of spectral voices. ‘The real catastrophe is that humanity continues.’ Phillips’ apparent misanthropy is hardly unjustified: in the scheme of all eternity, it’s taken us but the blink of an eye to render countless species extinct and decimate countless ecosystems. In nature, other species don’t destroy their own habitat. Even viruses and parasites evolve to achieve maximum replication without destroying their hosts. It’s simply not in their interests. The common cold is the most successful virus of all time because it’s highly contagious but rarely kills its host, other than by complications. The more hosts available, the times it can reinfect, the less work it has to do to propagate itself.

Siren-wailing undulations lead us to ‘the other side’, a groaning, wheezing croak of a composition built on repetition before finally, the title track crawls to the finish – and having made it, I can die happy.

Some speculate that death is not the end, but the likelihood is that it is, and regardless of spiritual belief, physically, it is. And why should that be such a bad thing? All things must end, and it’s a matter of when, rather than if. Live life: accept death.


dp to death digi w newest corrections

Room40 – 11th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I struggle to keep up with the influx of material I’m sent for review, and have done for at least the last 8 years, which may or may not be coincidental with a) becoming a parent b) rapidly developing a massive network or PR and band contacts. It turns out that there comes a point when you don’t need to ask to be added to mailing lists, and people just find you. Anyway. Sometimes I just struggle, but that’s a whole other matter.

Apparition Paintings is a collection of oddly disjointed compositions that alternately soothe and trip the listener, moving between mellow melodies and rippling calmness – ‘All I Desire’ is a slow melt of chillwave, electronic post-rock and Disintegration-era Cure – and eerie weirdness – ‘When I first came here (I thought I’d never get used to the trains; now when it’s quiet I get nervous)’ is part chamber-pop, part deranged spookiness. None of this sits comfortably, in any context, and the deeper one delves into the eerie collage work that is Apparition Paintings, the more unsettling it becomes.

Toop’s notes which accompany the release are as disjointed and confounding as the music they accompany: ‘Don’t ask me about genre or consistency. Who cares? Half the world is drowning; the other half is in flames. Each story is an animal, a plant, something you drink, a surface you touch, a faint line, some memory emanating from a cardboard box. “’Things’ in themselves are only events that for a while are monotonous,” wrote Carlo Rovelli in The Order of Time. Maybe sounds are melting ‘things’, tired of the monotonous real.’

Yet on a certain level it makes sense. In a post-Covid world. The monotonous real is the lived experience of the everyday for many – not that it wasn’t before, but now, without the commute, without being in proximity to the volatile colleague, the explosive tension or the whatever, the monotonous real is confined to the household and to within the head. It may not be immediately apparent, but Apparition Paintings is a sort of inside soundtrack of the now, with extraneous and unexpected noises pinging back and firth across the main sonic backdrops to each piece.

‘She fell asleep somewhere outside the world’ finds a disembodied female voice singing a quavering melody, hesitantly. It’s a popular trope, but the deranged, childlike singing against a spooky backdrop is an effective trigger for cognitive dissonance. Apparition Paintings is an album that very much speaks to the sounds of the interior.



Hallow Ground – HG2005 – 5th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

For this release, it’s worth laying out the context in detail, as provided in he press release, which explains that the album ‘was conceived as the soundtrack for the eponymous installation piece by the French artist Fanny Béguély.’

‘First presented as part of the group exhibition »Panorama 21 – ›Les Revenants‹« at Tourcoing’s Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporains in December 2019, Béguély’s chemically painted photographs focused on humankind’s propensity for self-examination and its attempts to probe the mysteries of the past, present and future. Oberland’s heavily processed electric hurdy-gurdy, the »boîte à bourdons,« provides the foundation upon which the Borghesia member Tomažin unfolds her gripping vocal magic(k). Their dense mesh of soundscapes and singing mediate between the mystic and the modern, the natural and the all-too-unreal to further examine our persistent desire to decipher the signs we find in nature. As the first collaboration between these prolific experimental artists, ARBA, DÂK ARBA is as evocative and thought-provoking as the art that has inspired it.’

The hurdy gurdy is by no means a common or popular instrument. Not that you’d be likely to be able to discern any specific instruments on the five sparse, ominously atmospheric pieces presented here.

From a sparse, quivering tone surrounded by emptiness, ‘Grotta’ builds in density over the course of fourteen and a half minutes into dense bugle of sound, a deep, resonant thrum over which mournful sounds – voice-like but not voices – moan and groan as they drape elongates notes of sadness over an increasingly uncomfortable backdrop.

This is not an album so settle down comfortably with, and it’s not a comfortable kind of ambience: ‘Fumes’ brings a suffocating tension, heightened by the unintelligible vocals that speak – wordlessly – of an inner torment as they reverberate in an endless monotone, through which rumbles of thunder rupture. Ululations undulate evoking strange, distant lands and mystical esotericism. It culminates in a long, isolated drone, almost lost beneath a cacophony of shrieking, wailing, and crying. It’s difficult to hear: I feel my chest tighten: it’s the sound of pain of torture.

‘Hieromancy’ (brief research tells me this is a form of divination involving sacrificial remains or sacred objects) only heightens the anguish amidst more shrieking and wordless despair. It fades down to a defeated murmur and a hovering hum which drift into the more optimistic dawn of ‘Hereafter’, which offers a glimmer of light and hope. It’s late-coming, but welcome.