. issue XIV : vii .
Brute Machine from Israeli electronic duo Re-Arbeiten is a receptacle for mistaken, askew schematics the industrial future wasn’t meant to have. Tastefully but fractiously mingling avant-garde and industrial, Brute Machine is due for ponderous study rather than a dance floor. The impromptu, dilapidated, warm ramble of these drafts only further convinces you of their articulate sentience. Re-Arbeiten’s inspirations: metal and wooden scaffolding (downhome carnival architecture, spindly toothpicks to forty feet, prison cells, prison walls, grids and grates, girders and the ribs of airships); formidable slabs of power (dreadnoughts liking fervid in the water, the USS Macon airship, a corrugated bunker’s dome like the head of an enormous, mossy and pockmarked creature); and Fritz Lang, apparently (re: Peter Lorre in M, ‘Maria’ in Metropolis). The result is something between a warmongered recovery group, a space age archivist’s distilled hippocampus, and Miéville’s The City and the City staged by insects. These long and expanding works (8 minutes on average) are thematically organized, but ceaselessly alive and actively evolving. Re-Arbeiten describe themselves as “ex Eastern block immigrants living in the middle east … you cannot get more Gibsonian than that” — and they’re spot on; they know exactly who they are, musically and meta-socially. It’s essential that we listen to these globalized prophets on the periphery of contemporary American experience. “Bravo, bravo, bravo.”
“Brutemachine” is extremely efficient, with compacted beats that scuff a shockwave of dust in their dense landing. The experience of potential work here is huge — just listen to that beat thud its tons on the ground. There’s anxious and excess energy latent here, compact and frustrated. Right from the start, we get the impression that machines are talking; listen to that glib-talking electronic line dangled in! “Brutemachine” is pungently metallic, hulking, heavy-duty, hard-shelled, monumental, mighty, and fearsome. Squishy beats like window wiping metronyms keep time distractedly while a voice-over of Henrich Mueller’s postmodern play Hamletmachine recall an unsavory Beefheart doppelgänger. There’s an undeserving, creepy suavity about this man’s voice, and the lines are no better:
Something is rotten in this age of hope
Let’s delve in earth and blow her at the moon
I’m good Hamlet, gimme a cause for grief
Ah, the whole globe for a real sorrow
Richard the Third, I the princekilling king,
Oh my people, what have I done unto thee?”
“Brutemachine” is unhinged, gaunt, defunct, scary and sterile … it’s something you step around on the street … therefore, Re-Arbeiten have succeeded in their distasteful mission! The voice-over adds a great deal, but it dominates the song a bit too much — too much bass, too much weird, too much fear. However, there’s someone sprechen Deutsch toward the song’s close, and I think it’s Hitler. … If only because of my inability to parse the German sample, “Brutemachine” is the piece that gives the most food for thought but leaves the meal unserved and the questions unanswerable.
“Lysergique” drops, yeah, no kidding. There’s ubiquitous bouncing and boinging — enough to make the listener motion sick. Small and falling smaller sounds in the background show Re-Arbeiten’s commitment to unconventional textural mechanisms and sonic richness. Like the hide of a drum rebounding slightly from the palm, we even hear the air around projectiles flexing back; “Lysergique” is a motile song and an experience of the space that’s negotiated with restless rebound. The drops are revised for increased tunefulness as stabilizing beats fill in the aural vacuum and an obnoxiously gentle marimba tints the canvas (toned ground, feathery gesso, light fluffy whipped carpet beige). The smallest superfluous jitters are an ellipsis of grace notes jostling forgettably. Re-Arbeiten even manages to invoke the aesthetic of lightweight crime, with ‘sleuth’ sounding quizzical downturns to its recoils. Semantronic crickets are bothering the neighbors with their noisy product, the synaptic twitches of life. There’s also an infirm jug band, where glass pipettes are the most delicate of drumsticks and slide whistles are unhappy and sad. To close “Lysergique,” staticy tendrils branch, bounce, and shake their leaves.
“Khobe Schkotch” has potent, off-kilter beats and strikes, shambled in stunning execution and beautiful in its odd coherence. “Khobe” is a sentiment sewing machine, stutter stitching tiny in all types: chirrups, claves, and slick chip trills. “Khobe” also samples children crying out at play with those sounds growing things often make (“can’t get me! can’t get me!”); this track possesses a pervasive, crepuscular optimism waking the sensitive life over several versatile phases. “Khobe,” unlike most songs on Brute Machine, feels like a composition with movements, though an organic one, musical musicle fibers twitching as it moves naturally. These are precocious beats, akin to what Nancarrow did with player piano rolls (physically mark the rolls with more ‘notes’ than are playable by a human) — too fast to be human, but too disordered and seemingly random to be a machine. The impression is one of pointillism: if the dots strike fast enough together, they make a line … and a held note. The best movement is the last, from the five-minute mark, which uses immense chimes, ringing, and leaping lightning to elevate and sun with its fireworks. “Khobe” trills and pans to close in a showy end — but also, in their panning between kids or between instruments, Re-Arbeiten is creating spaces both now to then (with pointillism — how close the dots are) and side to side (shuffling between a range of kids and instruments). Combined with the tonal depth of its rich beat repertoire, “Khobe” has x, y, and z directions. It’s cognitive, generative, and mathematical, and, like the Fibonacci sequence or fractal algorithms, seems to tap into a patterning device organic, fundamental and enabling.
“Agafia” has got to be about Agafia Lykov, a woman born in the remote Tagia region of Siberia to a family of Russian Old Believers who’d fled Bolshevik persecution. She was raised in absolute isolation from society, except for her four family members, for the first 35 years of her life, and her speech, like that of all the kids born alone in the Tagia, was oddly distorted (“cooing”) presumably from being raised in conditions where articulation (especially, status quo articulation) wasn’t required. Indeed, “Agafia” begins with a woman’s unfinished, raw voice cooing, “The mysteries of the universe lie in the sleeping legs of a woman,” which isn’t half as bad as it first sounds. Agafia’s hermitage story — she still lives in the Tagia at the age of 70, alone since her last relative passed in 1988 — is a testament to the a sort of sated, content animalism. Agafia gives valuable insight on the human ability to integrate with an environment, to make tools and act for sustenance. The human species makes tools and has language, yes, but it is also generative, adaptable, environment- and resource-conscious, and needs sustenance. Agafia shows both of these in healthy balance … and probably the natural scope of tool making, too. Agafia provides a healthy portrait of human endeavor — not a wilderness survival story, but a wilderness life story! The track evokes crumbling leaves, waterwheels, patterns in tree bark, snow, slopes and greenery. Sliding, smooth beats underneath recall, awkwardly, TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Sparse and slight; slender; graceful; it’s got the chopping and rustling sounds of the human in nature. Also detectable is, effectively, character theme music, from a keyboard with streaming ambience (vibes?) behind it. The pianist seems to have had a callosotomy … it seems only pleasantly naïve, incidental when the two hand’s lines mesh. It also evokes that Selenetic Age in Myst: grassland aridity with speaking warm winds. And the synth melds, somehow, harpsichord and vibes … with a droll texture and a sleek resilience that are, unstatedly, positive.
“Spleht” is as sharp and slick as a new knife set, conjuring, for me, granite counters, flagstone, pristine surfactants, crisp edges and no grain. Imperturbable, it’s a keen nifty dandy swell. Density settles in with the confidence of clamoring insects … “Spleht” is infestational mutters. Tight, almost normal beats are extremely virtuosic, and an ambient wash of clean harmony presides above. “Spleht” builds, then rescinds as beats begin to burn and decay, sputtering aggression, and distorted until you start to hear voices in them. Tentative melodic movements posit agreeable, blippy synth, but again (of course) with multiplex tone color that becomes cool with a slide at three-and-a-half minutes. “Spleht” is probably the danciest contribution to Brute Machine and it’s still far more inclined to be studied. Dancing to this would be like reading a cookbook in the library. “Spleht” is transcendent in what it produces despite its normal, appetitive ingredients and, to some extent, normal, appetitive devices. The voices hidden-pictures in blurps are reprised into the five-minute mark and continue: the mantis prays for you; the grasshopper rubs its legs even faster than usual; yay. “Spleht” has a throbbing aura about it, as sacred frogs belch profanely, all alive and abuzz; all jitterbugs are a seizure of organics, flitting aflutter; manifold and legion, the overwhelming breaths of life are diversified. A return to tidal washes and beats — so curious, like laid-down footsteps tiptoe across mystery novel for kids in a pedagogically mincing, exaggerated beat. And the wash is soaked sediment stratified where only occasionally can the seam be detected … usually the multi-layers upbuild sympathetically, inextricably, to something bigger than itself….
“Uhrgnrk” is a morse jutter: a pecking, clapping melody, obliquely emotive, is grounded in an ambient wash of the endless variety of jungle. Consider that species — that speciation — is, by nature, specialized … and so with the distinctive but unknown array of sounds in “Uhrgnrk.” It’s like inhabiting a wall of subject to all manner of things popping in and out, and further, being able to hear distant critters vocalizing on and on into overgrown forwver. It’s being tied up in a car wash dropped into the deepest jungle, and one isn’t precisely scared (it’s beyond that) but wary. A resonant instrument seems at first plucked-string (sitar), but, later, is specious. Could it be electronic? The source ambivalence of “Uhrgnrk” is such that even known sonic signatures are questioned. “Uhrgnk” also combines space age and post-punk moods: the sitar turns in single note after single note, each addition evoking a new mood for the tapestry, through crime and new age. There’s mood — not just qualia — ambivalence about “Uhrgnk.” Impossible to digest fully, the construction is constantly growing, like the personal expressions of anyone’s face. Its feedback is esoteric and sacral, new age and lift off astronaut (including a discrete throttle at three minutes), with jungle beats, too, the capricious vigor of life. A dire tone at eight minutes prompts vigilance disappointed by the minute-and-some of sparser beats through the end.
“Lescargoch” (har) is different as can be, and though it seems boring in comparison, with nuance the transition becomes enjoyable…. Flat-footed and subaqueous, tinny but resonant, “Lescargoch” knows that … some chimes are just larger than others. A bouncing reaction feels the glassware shudder of odd catalysis, cycloadditions and kinetic substitutions. Beakers hollow and alkaline flail in pyrex warfare, chemical splatters that synthetically burn. With a tight sputter and transduction slipping, “Lescargoch” chimes out into fast platter slots stuttering crunchy rapid fire, then becomes dense beats over an all-chime gamelan. Glissade glass insinuated slivers of lazersare centrifuged. Metallphones overwhelm their tones. “Lescargoch” sounds like the theme song for X-Files meets 24 — ahh, terrestrial and extraterrestrial ambition.
Re: Arbeiten. On their Facebook, the duo actually dedicate “Lescargoch” to mourning the “chemical Holocaust in the Middle East.” Brute Machine needs to be heard, psychologically, by people living in relative safety and security everywhere. “For every action….” Yes, not the least of which is mental. Sensitive to the ground it transcends, Brute Machine does post-late modern pre-future better than Library of Congress archivists, better than the evening news, better than William Gibson. It’s living it.