brainwashed

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Coil, "ANS"

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Threshold House
At first listen, COILANS seems like Exhibit A for the sort of experimental audio that functions as more of an intellectual or conceptual pleasure, rather than the sort of viscerally satisfying music I've come to expect from Coil. It clocks in at well over four hours of entirely unstructured, rhythm-less high-frequency sine-waves and subtly shifting AC hum. Tracks have no beginning or end, no point-counterpoint or resolution, and no tonal consistency. This new three-disc set also includes a DVD of synchronized digital animations for four of the tracks. It's a reissue and expansion of ANS, a limited edition, tour-only CD released last year, minimally packaged in an unmarked black plastic clamshell. This new boxed set comes in a beautiful foldout cardboard package (identical to the recent reissue of Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith) decorated with pictures of the disused ANS machine itself, sitting neglected in a basement room of the Moscow State University, rarely used and in dire need of a radical overhaul. It was built in 1958 by Evgeny Murzin, who set out to create a synthesizer capable of producing the full range of audible frequency via a unique photoelectric process. The composer inscribes his visual "score" onto a glass plate covered with sticky black mastic, slides it through the machine, which reads the inscribed plate and converts the etchings into sound produced by a system of 800 oscillators. In the liner notes, which provide further technical information about the machine, Coil acknowledge that it takes a lot of practice and skill for the user to relate the marks on the plate to the resultant sounds. Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke (whose name is misspelled in the notes) spent an entire year of intensive work with the machine to produce his one and only piece of electronic music entitled "Flow." However, Coil spent only a few days with the ANS, so by their own admission, the sounds on these three discs cannot be described as "compositions" in any sense. Instead, the sounds represent an accidental interpretation of Coil's visual art into audible electricity. As such, it is pointless to assess the musical merit of any of these pieces. The soundpieces in the set are the work of various solo and group alignments of Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Ossian Brown, Thighpaulsandra and Ivan Pavlov of COH. The notes do not identify which track features which personnel, either because they can't remember or they think it doesn't matter. The CD wallets (and the prints included with the first edition of the set) feature some of the line drawings that were used to make these pieces, but once again, the listener is given no indication which drawings produced which sounds. The drawings operate as Spare-style magical talismans, where occult symbols and "alphabet of desire" glyphs representing words or phrases (such as the tautological "IT JUST IS" on the back of disc B) exist as arcane sigillizations. But the ANS is able to take these occult strategies a step beyond the usual, by transforming them into an entirely exotic lexicon of ghostly electric frequencies. This relation of visual image to sound had the effect of a strange form of synaesthesia on me as I waded through these four discs of unprocessed analog tones; I began to form novel mental connections between sound and vision, thoughts and symbols. Halfway through the third disc I had become like Nikola Tesla, obsessively listening to electronic signals trying to pick out messages he was certain were being transmitted by extraterrestrials. Is it possible for the mind to subconsciously decode this esoteric system of pulsations, throbs, clicks and whirrs? It's impossible to say with any certainty, but the mere suggestion that it might be so makes the sound entirely compelling. At first glance, the DVD animations seemed no more inventive than WinAmp visuals, but I soon noticed the subtle psychedelic abstractions present in each perfectly synchronized schema. By the end of my COILANS adventure, I was tuned into a heretofore unexplored magickal current, a current that sparks and buzzes with vibrations of the manifest spirit. Electricity has truly made angels of us all.

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