Thursday, October 2, 2008

Worth Seeking (II)

Dialing In: Cows in Lye (Pseudo Arcana, 2006)
One of the most delightful aspects of the Internet (more than just a global pornography network, as Lisa Simpson once said) is how it allows the individual searching for more esoteric musical experiences the opportunity of connecting directly with small labels which specialise in such things. Or, to put it another way, it is a pathway to labels run by creative and intelligent individuals who release interesting, exciting, and imaginative music, as opposed to the mainstream's (more often than not) mass-produced pablum, recorded by worthless egotists (whose primary goal in life is to swan about in limos and have closets filled with designer shoes) and slurried out by major labels. One such specialist label is Pseudo Arcana, set up by a musician named Antony Milton and dealing primarily in what could loosely be described as noise, drone, and experimental, featuring artists such as Birchville Cat Motel, seht, Dead Raven Choir, Glory Fckn Sun, and Sunken (you can check them out here and here). They are also responsible for releasing Cows in Lye, the second album from the mysterious Dialing In, and one of the best I've heard (by a hitherto unknown-to-me artist) in quite some time.
Dialing In is the nom-de-plume of Reita Piecuch, a sound artist from Seattle who works in a record shop. This practically all that I know about her. The record label's blurb is short on detail bar a basic description of how the six tracks were created and a pretty accurate summation of the album's sound (an "ecstatic roaring psychedelic drone project"). She has no website or MySpace page, and there's no statement of work or interviews available (that I could locate) which inform us of her thoughts on life, art, music, George W. Bush, etcetera. Such reclusiveness is both admirable in our age of talentless media whores (and I use the phrase in a gender-free sense) and in keeping with the bleak and beautiful atmosphere of her music, where looped motifs (a piano phrase, a vocal fragment) hover over a blaring, turbulent wall of fluid noise which at times threatens to swamp and obliterate them, creating a sonic environment of hypnotic, unsettling mystery and wonder.
Some clues to her intent: her chosen name, Dialing In, suggests reportage; messages being phoned in from a place of anxiety and uncertainty, signals received through a coagulated sediment of interference, as well as an enforced distance from the person transmitting the signals, the source. The album's title (and cover, a close-up of a flayed animal's jawbone) provides more suggestions; lye is a corrosive substance used to dissolve animal fats in order to create soap, an interesting allegory to what the artist does in her creative work (taking natural sounds and rendering them into walls of clotted noise) but also leading to speculation about the artist's intended message. Organic matter broken down by harsh, destructive chemicals in order to create something purifying? The callousness of a process whereby, in an age where synthetic soaps can be easily manufactured, chunks of slaughtered animals are still used in this fashion? Such ambiguity is in keeping with this music, which is allusive, suggestive, sublimely atmospheric, and utterly brilliant.
Like any drone project (which, I believe, have their origins in non-Western forms of music where the goal of the performer is to transport the listener into a transcendental, ecstatic state of mind), these six tracks initially come across as deceptively simple. Create a thick wall of noise, generate a few looped motifs to hover on top of it, and just let it run for a while. But it's a bit more tricky than that! The first thing to state is that Ms. Piecuch, through her method of recording and re-recording real sounds until they're practically unrecognisable, buried under an accretion of hiss and distortion, conjures up a huge, almost overwhelming density of sound on each of these tracks, especially when played as I'm sure is intended (extremely loud). Against a turbulent, at times chaotic, carpet of howling, indistinct blare, often mournful and elegiac musical phrases repeat insistently, creating a mesmerising, almost oneiric soundscape that carries the attentive listener away and into a dark, desolate, and haunting world. As the compositions envelop you, one becomes attuned to the slightest changes within the initially indistinct, almost impermeable, knots of noise; echoes of melody, ghosts of barely-heard instruments, are glimpsed briefly in the tumult before disappearing. Although the tracks are actually quite short, they give the impression that they could continue indefinitely, working their subtle magic for hours at a stretch. They encompass a wide range of invention and emotion, giving lie to the (ill-informed) notion that drone need be dull or repetitive; one can choose from the melancholic 'In The Mojave' or the blistering 'Thorazine Eclipse'; the huge, forceful bass tone of 'Landfill' or the seething, Middle-Eastern-tinged tumult of 'He Just Fused Your Mind'; from the rushing, turbid mass of 'City of Dogs' or the very strange 'Diamante's Call to Prayer', which features a guy called Herb Diamante reciting in a stilted, Olde Englishe accent over an ebbing, uncertain blare backdrop with insistent loops, a bit like the soundtrack to a post-industrial noise remake of The Canterbury Tales. Throughout, Diamante repeats the phrase "what ails thee?" like a medieval preacher; if the answer is the post-millenial blues, brought on by the fact that the world's going down the tubes and there's not a damn thing we can do about it, the best way to combat the symptoms is to take this album at least once a day, at top volume, like vitamins (as Lester Bangs suggested that you do with Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music). Cows in Lye faces the muck and horror of the world we've created for ourselves and wrings beauty, hard-won and demanding but there nonetheless, out of it. And, fundamentally, that's what all good music is for, right?

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