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Zbigniew Karkowski & Daniel Menche, "Unleash"

cover imageDaniel Menche discussed on his now infamous blog how his attendance at a Karkowski show was a major inspiration and motivation for his now prolific career in sound art.  I would imagine that for that reason he would have some sense of intimidation working with his hero, but this live in the studio collaboration shows no sense of trepidation, just two masters shaping sound into frightening and fascinating sculptures.

Alien8

The collaboration is split into six untitled pieces for the sake of the listener, though it is relentless in its hour-long duration.  The opening of skittering drum sounds alone before the rattling digital tones kick in, make for one of the few sparse elements in this recording.  Beyond here, it gets denser and thicker.  Unlike some of Menche’s more open and ambient experiments of late, this stays more in the realms of his earlier harsh work, though with more of an electronic sheen instead of overdriven tube amps.

As the first section pushes on, the rhythm elements stick around as metallic scrapes, buzzing tones, and nasal electronic pulses cut through, the mix eventually becoming dominated by the high pitched noise frequencies, though the drums still stay buried there.  This continues on, being complimented by some deep overdriven rumbling, blasts of static and higher, almost chiming tones that could be musical in some other dimension.

The static eventually supplants the high pitched noises, being cut up like a helicopter matched with hissing air compressors and artifacts of cheap time-stretched effects.  Eventually this takes a back seat to pure harsh static that recalls the halcyon days of the harsh noise scene, which both of these artists were pioneers in.  This continues on, the percussive thump eventually rising up to make itself known, but always stays under the din.

The last segment continues on with the thump, but the noise begins to break away, sheets of noise splashing about, crunchy distortion, and painful buzzing that morphs into painfully shrill tones, which are what closes the disc on its own, leaving a ringing that lasts in the ears after the disc closes.

This disc in some ways does recall the early golden days of harsh noise in its pure electronic abstraction and chaos, yet rather than just pummeling with volume instead it stays a bit more restrained, allowing the variety of textures that are here to be experienced rather than just suffered through.  As the first of two studio collaborations, I'm now eager to find out how the second one recorded will turn out.

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Review of the Day

Elixir, "Don't Be Scared"
Quatermass
Here is another electronic, beat-based album that plays the game of "I love it/I hate it." The atmosphere is mostly dark, the beats thick and chugging, and the melodies somehow buried inside walls of static noise and time-warped samples. There's the first problem: sometimes the melodies never get a chance to come out and play. As a result, I'm left listening to a somewhat boring, somewhat repetitive drum track that doesn't have the power to carry the song by itself. Unfortunately, the album is produced in such a way that each song inevitably has some incredible sounds on it but they're completely attenuated by the way they're thrown into the backgroud and lost beneath a plethora of effects. But then, amazingly, all that wishy-washy noise comes together for a few brief moments and gives birth to an explosion that comes close to relieving the tension and weariness of the first few minutes of the song. This is how "Flesh Wound" opens up the album and it segues into the infinitely more entertaining "Gargantuan." I imagine one of those dolls that has a slinky for a neck bopping around to this rubbery and dynamic wall of beats only to have a stick of dynamite send it into the great beyond. "Gargantuan" has nearly the same production style as "Flesh Wound," but manages to pull it off by allowing the repeating drum and melody patterns to weave a bit more intricate and diverse body of sound. "Boiled In Blood" is a bit more low-key than anything else on the album and it provides a nice break from the havoc of the first two tracks. It unfortunately gives way to more standard four-on-the-floor dance music that sounds horribly distorted and only covers up what seems to be the most interesting elements dying in the background. And so this process continues throughout the duration of Don't Be Scared. I either love it or I hate it. Not much changes in terms of production: it's all pretty muddy and eventually this makes the entire album feel far too homogenous. The formula either works for some of the songs or it doesn't. This up and down experience ends up making the whole album feel dull; it's just hard to sit down and listen to the whole thing all the way through.

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