Music Reviews

cover
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: On Corrosion
Format: Tape
Label: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
“On Corrosion” is an ambitious art project. It’s the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s 50th release and the theme is based on founder Jim Haynes’ work curating an art collection under the name “On Corrision”. Ten different established sound artists have contributed their own full-length albums inspired by, or in response to, that theme. Over the course of nearly seven hours, these works head off in a variety of different directions, with diverse and varying appeal (some more than others). It’s appropriate that each album has its own artwork and subtitle as well, since largely they would stand up as sound works in their own right even if disassociated from the overriding theme- yet as I work through each release, I find myself spotting commonalities between each, leading to over-use of the word “also” in introducing each in the context of the last.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project’s “Hydration Equilibrium” is a series of disquieting found sounds constructed into occasional patterns and rhythms on a drone base. ‘Disintegrated media’ is a successful subtheme, drawing and dismantling recordings from old tapes into an extensive entropy of modern broadcast noise, and meaty final track “Only The Green, Blue and Black” is a highlight.

The corrosion in G Park’s “Nosode” is largely digital, heavy bit-crunching, phasing and thick shifting equalisation taking fairly ordinary sounds like dripping taps and breaking them down into evil-sounding and edgy sonic abstracts across two fairly flat but intriguing 17 minute textures.

Himukalt’s “Torn Asunder- The Half Girl” is an exercise in unrelenting fury. Passionate angry feedback and noise walls punch your ears repeatedly, heavily distorted spoken-word monologues are barely discernible, raw sexual noises are thrown in for added affrontery. It jumps between structureless assembly and infrequent more industrial pattern-based sections such as when a kick drum pops in and out of “Cruel By Most Estimations”. “Absent” is the most successful track but the whole thing feels like reading somebody else’s private diary about a relationship that’s broken down in violent fashion.

Alice Kemp’s “9 Dreams In Erotic Mourning” also feels like relationship breakdown channeled into sound, but very differently. The stereotypical British bottling up of emotion seems at play here, as lethargic synth-piano melodies take precedent and suppressed feelings creep in at the edges, in the form of electric hums, masturbatory and pained vocalisations, identifiable rustling, and the like. These feelings break through periodically, most notably in the screams of “Alles Ist Wie Es Ist”, but it remains an odd balancing act of repression and expression.

Kleistwahr’s “Winter” also juxtaposes long harmonious melodic pads with more impulsive and gritty injunctions, this time more guitar-like, but across these two twenty-minute pieces it’s a contrast that feels more assured, almost enjoyed. It’s a tourist’s journey through discord but it somehow feels safe and unchallenging. Even as the pitch steadily shifts up and up and up in “Rust Eats the Future”, it somehow never sounds stressful or tense- which is very curious considering the ingredients.

“A Collection Of Damaged Reel Tape Loops” by Francisco Meirino also makes awkward noise palatable. There is no melodic element here, but there are windy envelopes that stroll over the main meat of the production, which is unrecognisably distorted sonic blowout and feedback that comes round and round, in looped patterns, to create rhythm and structure seemingly by accident. What could possibly me old music hall recordings drift through into your consciousness vaguely as it progresses, a literal but powerful interpretation of the corrosion of recorded sound-history.

No-wave, anti-rock duo Neutral offer up “Lagliv” which feels faintly anachronistic in this set thanks to the dominance of heavy guitar thrashing. A cacophony of dramatic documentary sound and spoken-word elements ride atop thick noise work but it still feels like the album here which is closest to what it would sound like if performed live. Of the two eighteen-minute tracks here, it was “Ganska lagt / Ocksa” that felt more accessible to me thanks to its increased inclusion of electronic noise, since I’m an electronics kid at heart.

Pinkcourtesyphone’s reliably minimalist “Shouting At Naunce” is an entrancing but uneventful forty-nine minutes of light electronic pulses, long delays, and slowly fading and breathing hums that’s absolutely charming and eminently soporific. Second piece “Alternatory” is marginally more melodic, adding to the sense of lullaby. If anything my only criticism of this work is that, in view of the overriding theme of the collection, this work doesn’t sound corroded- if anything it sounds smoothed, like a glossy sonic pebble. It joins other Pinkcourtesyphone releases on my sleep playlists.

Relay For Death’s “Mutual Consuming” is also a pair of long ambient works with a wave approach and a soporific flavour, but quite a different tone- there’s something steadily metallic about the resonances here, never straying fully into nails-down-the-blackboard territory but sharp enough to give an underlying sense of tension. Unlike the previous album, this does build to something dramatic, with second piece “Terminal Ice Wind” stepping assuredly up in level until it earns some dramatic deep bangs and crashes, corrosion akin to hearing the rapid cracking of a huge ice sheet from the point of view of someone trapped in the ice.

Alice Kundalini, as She Spread Sorrow, offers up “Orchid Seeds”. It’s storytelling-driven, powered by a breathy spoken word narrative that’s frankly hard to follow and feels invasively and deliberately over-intimate. This works on top of a bed of dark sonic textures, primarily super-low bass rumbles on the border of reproducible sound and ordinary hearing, but also cut through by higher-pitched rapid pulses and some very high-pitched squealing sounds that add to the discomfort. Occasionally, kicks and sub-bass sounds borrowed from dubby deep trip-hop bring everything up a level, making tracks like “She Didn’t Care” more memorable. Despite being split into five pieces, it mostly plays as a single unit, with the track divisions feeling as much chapter-based as they are by sonic change. A word of warning about the distant relentless old-fashioned telephone ringing sound that sits in the background of “Queen Of Guilt”- it will make you think your phone’s ringing, even if it doesn’t sound anything like your ringtone.

It’s presented as a 10-cassette set in a wooden box, but I only have the digital files to review so I can’t comment on the physical aspects of it. The packshot photo certainly makes it look like a thing of retro beauty though.

Sonically, it’s certainly a work of art. The way in which ten different artists have tackled the overarching theme, drawing parallels between themselves but also setting off in ten tangibly different directions. Everyone will have different favourites- I’d probably single out Pinkcourtesyphone and Francisco Meirino as mine- but people with a lot of time (and presumably money- I don’t know the asking price) to invest in dark electrosonic arts will find a lot that’s worthwhile in this nearly seven-hour-long collection.



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