Various Artists - the nature of systems


In addition to drumming with Terrastock 1 performers, Hilkka, Joe Tunis also runs the Rochester, NY-based Carbon Records label and loops tapes and other exotic electrical and "found" instruments as leader of the algebraic equation, Joe+N (where n= his number of collaborators.) Talk about wearing your math rock credentials on your (CD) sleeve! For Carbon's 25th release, Joe has solicited contributions from several T'stock cohorts (and their various side projects) and Carbon label stalwarts and offers up this (mostly) successful experiment in the exploration of sonic textures.

The Arthur Doyle Electro-Acoustic Ensemble break out their toy penny whistles on "Flue Song," while Andy Gilmore's "She's Settin' HerAssin A Bathtub" gathers conch shells and warped Carribean-styled kettle drums (bathtubs?) and sets his assdown in a cone of silence. The dichotomy between sea and sky (or water and air, to be more precise) is simulataneously unsettling and fascinating. Tom and Christina Carter will be making a rare live performance at Terrastock 4 in Seattle in November and "Mansfield Dam," recorded a mere six months ago is a tasty teaser of what fans may expect from this husband and wife duo who record under the enigmatic name Charalambides. Plucked guitar strings, recorded forwards, backwards and across all points in between are layered upon Christina's ethereal chanting, where notes and tones (not exactly "singing," per se) combine to form an angelic choir under the direction of ersatz Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser. Christina may chastise me for making said comparison, but it is actually meant as a compliment. No amount of compliments, however, can save Finkbeiner's super distorted, melodic chaos, "Yes, It Can" from the obvious rejoinder. This sci-fi guitar extravaganza seems to be directed towards answering the musical question, "Can your guitar do this?" My response, "Perhaps; but maybe it just doesn't want to." Staten Island's Golden Calves Eskimo Lime Band is represented with the mercifully short noise experiment, "Hostel Song." The Flying Luttenbachers' "Maximum Cruelty" lives up to its name as Einsturzende Neubauten meets Faust on the dissecting table under the musical direction of Coltrane in the throes of withdrawal. Painful stuff. Burlap drop by with the sound of a cassette tape fast forwarding over a Cure-like single bass note ("Coming Home"), while T'stock vets, Pelt present a Dream Syndicate drone accompanied by Amy Shea's Conradian violin touches. "The Dream of Leaping Sharks" even sounds like a title that escaped from the clutches of Young and co. and is the highlight of the first half of the disk. Host Joe Tunis steps outside the skronk and squalor of Hilkka for some electro-astral projections which catalog certain "Types of Interference" and T'stock fave Loren MazzaCane Connors does the same with his guitar in "I've Had Trouble, I've Had Joy," a piece so quiet and meditative it lives up to the adage: I will strike no string before its time. The six string equivalent of a Low vocal. Nod break out all their Neil Young wah-wah distortion pedals and harps for a good ol' fashioned backporch, backwoods toe tapper, "John Henry vs. The Smog Monster." Can you say "Soo-eeee?!" Paging Mr. N(o)d Beaty! We began with the carny-like strains of Arthur Doyle and we now present the carnival from hell strains of Mick Turner's "Carny's Dance." It'll scare the kids (and weak stomached adults) sh*tless! Hilkka's Rich Nuuja tortures his guitar in his side project, Sheet and "Quick Stomach" will empty even the staunchest NiN fans' and is strictly for Japanese noise afficianados. Carbon Record's SQ pours Borbetomagus into the Lhasa Cement mixer and the resulting block of musique concrete should have Neubauten and Faust fans quaking in their kneehigh goose- stompers, while Bardo Pond continue to expand the gap between the quality of what they're capable of delivering (Amanita) and what they're actually releasing as the two notes and a prayer "Vagabond" goes nowhere in a hurry. Side Projects 'R' Us continues as The (other) Dream Syndicate's Karl Precoda and Pelt's Mike Gangloff meet in a "Metal Shop," fire up the blade sharpener (which often morphs into a police siren and is actually – I'm guessing – Karl's guitar) and layer the whole shebang on top of Mike's extended drone (also, presumably, his guitar) and in the process forge a whole new entity I've christened Inside the Dream Syndicate, aka IDS. It sure beats the s**t out of Table of the Element's recent snippet of the (other) Dream Syndicate (aka EGO)'s work in (and out of) progress. Tunis and Finkbeiner (assisted by John Schoen on percussion) return under the guise of Pengo, whose "New Loft Elevation 2001" again begs the industrial comparisons with Neubauten although, instead of "collapsing new buildings," this approximates erecting them.

nAt the beginning of this review I referred to the sonic/texture exploration that can be found within these grooves (bits and bytes, actually.) Tunis has assembled a fine collection of pieces that, while occasionally derivative of areas that the past masters have delved into, offers a 21st century take on how music FEELS, as opposed to how it SOUNDS. To experience these pieces is to be enveloped within the machinery – the hardware – of the musical voices of their creators and not the typical heart (or software) that one usually expects from a composition. This is music of the body, not the mind. Don't spend too much time thinking about it (I've just done that for you), get out there and feel it. This, then, is the "nature of systems:" they act upon each other to "push society forward" as Joe says in his liners. Action, not necessarily thought (or discussion which, if you think about it, is actually IN-action or stasis) is the key.

  • Various Artists

    the nature of systems


    Carbon Records CR25

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