The Rummage

Tag: Haggard

. issue XVI : viii .

. artist : trans/human .
. album : the wider .
. year : 2012 .
. label : blackest rainbow .
. grade : a minus .

TransHuman

The recalcitrantly-titled The Wider (wider than …? should we listen … wider? does humanity aspire … wider?) is a dithering tumult of horror film excerpts (specifically, the screams), terrific and charged ambience, the intent jangle and posture of ceremonial dance, and rotary, droning beats that slough with the molten crawl of slag. The cover photo by Joe Blanchard is also incorrigible and daunting: it seems to be an encaustic wallpaper-peeling hell of primrose and sarcoline, waxy ectoderm melting in strips to reveal the cartouche of Mama Bear and Papa Pig, dressed with ruffed sleeves, a checkered apron and a top hat; some children’s book of unthought grotesquerie. It’s also inked with scribal-sacrosanct vermillion; with red in all the center of things — jelly-donut viscera — splotches, wounds, even an alveolar pupil in the eye of a daisy.

Electronic artists behind the tortuous Wider, Trans/Human, are Adam Denton and Luke Twyman of Audacious Art Experiment. Trans/Human craft an aptly transitional presentation, linear but muddled, confounding the interpretation of sounds as they are shifted from one source to another. The Wider features the screams of humans but transitions to them through remote, and so, blind, cries of animals lowing, cawing, keening. They remind us that humans are animals, and that the frantic noise of fright or pain has a subhuman power to work over the listener, demanding an active attention … and action (though impossible here). The near- (and paradox) insufferability of Wider (for its hearer) — would you condone leaving a human in pain? — yields an emotive desire for interactivity that’s exceptional in this genre, whose worse enemy is what it’s most conducive to: “sit-back-and-re-lax.” The expressive rawness of the screams plays, too, on the imagination, and the listener can imagine virtually anything going on, or not going on … who knows? No one. In a way, horror films do us a kindness by showing the violence or fearful stimulus, disabusing the listener of their need to be afraid for any number of opportunities, sympathetically prepared for anything. Some screams seem more reverent than upset, and a choral atmosphere, droning, and plainsong chant often presides as well — how hard it can be to distinguish between devotion and subjugation.

On a related note, the presentation of [x] as music immediately informs our perception and interpretation … and can make the experience problematic: in the first sequence of screams, slowly clarified as human from the animal babble, a single cymbal touch creates anempathy between the horror screams and the drums usually associated with comedy.

From the first sparsely percussive minutes, Wider ripens into a charged ambience, left off near-soundless negative space to great, hallowed effect, marinating the listener into an abiding patience. Wider is, in some ways, like the vitreous vapor rising in a dark foundry, aglow and wafting an ether of heat.

Wider begins with swaying footsteps and clave clacks, drum claps, a listless military exercise of clanking accouterments, the regimented dance of a prayer dress, ghungroos and dhols belabor in slow motion; a water-tortured metronome; the keen clack of cane; the wild hollow of a ghost dance. Then cries transduce slowly, from the lowing of a cow giving birth, to the hushed choir of caws as the black mass of birds comes to settle … transmuting finally into a human. The agony persists as the thunderous staccato of tribal ambience begins again; it’s chilling as the cries become increasingly coherent, and, from the beastly herd, a man. Then an ambience alert and abuzz, with the purposed roil of a shifty spider’s legs or the spotty turn of cartoon bees from a pooh book. The ambience of captivity — a dank and dripping cell, walls leaching, still air smelling of rusted metal of a prison cell — is again broken by the anempathetic cymbal. It’s the Tony Oxley-worthy jangle from the drum kit — sometimes frivolous but at others masterfully-aired sarcasm — that make uncomfortable evocations sound laudatory or trite. It’s as though there’s been a soundtrack all along….

A windswept oscillation of accumulated sound hurtles, expelling steam in a long gasp, locomotive windows whistling in percussive wind-ups; human screams are buried in the sonic miscellany. Then the motile cry of the screeching train becomes the yawn of an angry cat. Wound through cloughs, a vortex of noise hurtles, consuming and overpowering. The cymbals make even this visceral, tornadogenic pull anempathetic. It’s a hungry demon sort of sound, opened wide on the wide open event horizon and into the sunset; the bright clank chimes of patina-laden metal settles into drum stick soft scrums, leaf rustles of percussion. An abrasive alarm tone begins to drone. A percussive whatsit Oxley jangle smatters. And there’s almost total silence (11:50) but present in its absence, charged with an electrostatic buzz. Then a witch cackle crackle becomes a mechanical toad lowing in its crank substitute, and slag is heaped and fumblingly resorted. Brooding viols and cellos begin to abrade their strings.

Then it’s a whirlpool of Mozarabic chant, the viscous drone of an organ, everything resonating; Wider begins to mobilize with a loud guitar spottily plucking out a few notes; the drum energetically steps up to motoric starts and stops in cool waves, then, faster, into military double-time, with cymbal crashes for syncopation. There’s a hum underneath like a blender wrapped in wool; a comber rotary becomes softer with each dip; a surf punk moment includes a dobro and discharges a upbeat tone, with beeps underneath, a parody of a small band mincing about its takeover of retro kitchen appliances: grinding motors and a reverberant wash of droning. The small revolutionary non-flap of helicopter leaves; now resonant peaks and valleys; wound down, wound back up; settles down into resonance; yowling again like cattle or monks in a guttural chant; their pitch begins to crown at the note where the lawnmower’s finally started. Vacillating vox is chanting and twining in a bizarre pained round, the frame switching static beneath and beginning to segment itself.

There’s clanging and calling over a mid-size rotary hum as fermatas duplicate on the page, droning on hold. Then a switch to a grungy sci-fi crunch, like a mid-century military operation in a cold corridor with olive-green wallpaper. A break is rhythmic, dilapidated jazzy, with a distorted keyboard or honking sax. A theramin begins like a soprano cry but is replaced by a woman’s scream. A foil to the man’s distressed cries near Wider’s beginning, she is not upset at all, but rather deeply formidable, with an almost shamanic power, unmistakable as a woman-lioness … a sort of Clytemnestra moment. More trains screak and organs unstopper; a deep beat evokes a tuba weedwacker; drum kits are banged about conventionally all the while, as though there’s nothing strange and messy about what it’s backing. A bagpipe sound creates an ambient plane underwater; helicopter propeller roulette takes on a bright, almost woodwind-edge.

It’s more of the same as The Wider anneals, rollicking to its 33-minute close in a thinning bubbly barrage, with choral undertones and gristly feedback. It’s gritty and silt-thick, with curtains of gong wiping the slate; side-to-side percussion like an earthquake jitter under the surface. High-pitched screaks, stilted rhythms, crowd noises, and pot-n-pan drum kits evince the breaking wave that later, as an undertow, shifts sands, destabilizing as it strafes below, leaving nothing but a hum and drum stick claps — like a stopwatch. The stagehands clear the set. To close, whistles begin from a human throat, then soften to birds, … then to a lull of crickets: “silence.”

by Brittany Tracy

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. issue VII : ii .

. artist : rudimentary peni .
. album : cacophony .
. year : 1989 .
. label : outer himalayan .
. grade : a plus .

Cacophony1

“It was a double record set, it cost 7 dollars, it was too much, but Frank Zappa’s name was on it so I bought it. I took it home and put it on. It was the worst dreck I’d ever heard. I said, ‘They’re not even trying! They’re just playing randomly,’ you know? But I thought, ‘But Frank Zappa produced it, so maybe if I give it another play….’ And I thought, ‘It sounds horrible, but they mean it to sound this way.’ And about the 3rd or 4th time it started to grow on me. At about the 5th or 6th time I loved it. And the 7th or 8th time, I thought it was the greatest album ever made, and I still do.”
— Matt Groening on Trout Mask Replica

And therefore, the reader is charged with listening to Rudimentary Peni’s Cacophony at least seven times. Cacophonous it is, but more properly, it’s hypostatically polyphonous: frontman Nick Blinko assumes dramatis personae with relentless, revolting limberness, catatonically flexible — the boneless dissolution of self — but frantically motile. (The instrumentation is equally unfettered and fickle. And composition? Forget it! For instance, one seconds-long song — “A Return to Victorian Values” — consists only of Blinko stating, “Henry was giving his mother a good f-cking.” And so the most that can be said is that (the) Cacophony persists for 43 minutes. But goodness-gracious, …if that isn’t the least of it.) If Beefheart pursued the consummation of the blues tradition, Blinko is pursuing the mental anthropology of humanity, our curse cosmogenic in scope, and the underbelly of the psyche, which, as Heraclitus once said, “lusts to be wet.” Blinko’s near-complete derangement (he was committed for a symbolic seven years (great) after Cacophony spewed itself into the world) is the midwife of this psychological riposte of an album, supersaturate with by Blinko’s advanced vision, keen denunciation, and thunderbolted ‘word salads’ as epigrammatic as Heraclitus but strung together freeform in a slipshod cocoon. Mental dissolution results in (or, perhaps, is conjugated with, steeled on by (re: Ahab)) the total refusal of all barriers — “What’s the use of looking if you don’t see ’em?” intones Blinko in “The Horrors in the Museum” — and permits a terrible clarity. Not uncoincidentally, this is Heraclitus’ ‘upward-downward path’ in teeming tender unity, ponderously fecund; this is a Cacophony, in which Rudimentary Peni (Grant Brand, b-g; Jon Greville, d; Nick Blinko, vox and e-g) make a totally reasonable racket for all those ms(s)-in-a-bottle(s) so-long sealed (one striking snippet: “They took my father, today, 1697”).

But what do these ‘30’ ‘songs’ mean? This cacophony is beyond that, perhaps, as when Blinko claims himself “Anti-anti- / Don’t even believe in nihilism anymore / The problem of induction.” If there is a hermeneutics here, it’s induced but not inductive, instead, forced to be the enfleshed sum-total, overload though that might be. Whence the hypostasis, and hence the connection with H. P. Lovecraft, early 20th-century horror writer of deservedly notorious repute, who understood the human epistemology as one of uppity mythmaking and tough-shelled but vulnerable viscera-frail capacities (“Things have learned to walk that ought to crawl”) in a universe of arcane forces — the Lovecraftian Pantheon — far exceeding human comprehension. It’s Blinko’s fascination with Lovecraft that is the white-‘n’-shining skeleton of Cacophony and the vehicle for his presentation, the torque of his incisive tongues. Blinko identifies himself as the incarnation of the hermeneutical import (“To Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, must all things be told / And He shall put on a semblance of men, the waxen mask and the robe that hides”), the teller of all things to whom “must all things be told.” The very real toll of the project on Blinko is illustrated by the faux-reportage in “New Dark Age” —

——————————————————————————————————-flamelike sunset.
“Hello, and welcome to Inconclusive Arguments. In today’s conference, we have a psychologist, a guru, an athlete, a freak, a scientist, a dictator, an Anarchist, a mass murderer, a composer, a human vegetable, and a complete outsider. Let’s open the discussion with you, er, what gives? That look of revelation on the athlete’s face: the complete outsider is the center of attention — Just what is the human vegetable doing to the psychologist? The freak is eating up the mass murderer. Oh my god, terrifying vistas of reality and our position therein are being opened up to us all. This is the worst thing that’s happened to mankind, and in the studio they’ve opted for a new dark age, but your commentator has gone stark raving mad.”

Blinko, the complete outsider (elsewhere he calls himself “one semi-unacculturated”), is forced to expropriate all actors in order to engorge <> disgorge any remotely accurate ‘message.’ This may sound like some historiographical early-Decemberists piece, but no; it’s gone far past the ‘roll.’ Blinko has the entire script, and Cacophony is the vessel. He’s also conscious of being the stage, assuming Lovecraftian characters with page-turning flippancy, yes, but also singing, stammering, ranting, cavorting, retching, defecating, emitting ghastly vibrato, gnashing his teeth (“A Great Gnashing of Teeth” — no kidding), and purring (the memorable “Cat”). The performative quality of Cacophony is grotesque; with Blinko so far beyond the event horizon, this is ruinous realism where the actor is a victim and the audience are bystanders. Blinko conflates himself with Lovecraft in telling terms (“The sickliest bodies produce the greatest thoughts / Fourth generation teetotaler / Memory man, muscleless man / Hear a Lovecraft ccccrying / I am a tasteless, unsophisticated yokel / I ain’t no gent / You are a yahoo / I ain’t no gent / You are a yahoo / The last of the line with the strangest decline / Lovecraft baby”) — “memory man,” a powerless repository of cosmological and anthropological awareness. But he’s also keenly aware of himself as an inheritor in the Conradian sense, saying he’s “fondling the master’s skull” — the hard-to-define inappropriateness of the verb tunneling through foramina — and capitalizing on another’s legacy (“One of his coffin nails / For one hundred dollars”). But perhaps this capitalization is a way for the “herd” (“the herd laughed at my writing”) to stomach — not digest — Lovecraft’s works, and Blinko provides commentary on Lovecraft’s legacy that’s both derisive and peculiarly ashamed: “Lovecraft lives in Del Rey books / Lovecraft’s rock follies.”

But those selfsame ‘rock follies’ are decried by a fogey of a headmaster (perhaps?) in “Twitch,” and so with a sleek, effortless reversal, Blinko conveys what’s admirable about Lovecraft — the integrity of obsession; just as ‘passion’ and ‘passive’ are both from the Latin ‘to suffer, to endure, to submit.’

——————————————————————————————beyond the Tanarian hills.
“Howard Phillips Lovecraft, heaven knows, had a talent for writing which was of no mean proportion, only, what he did with this talent was a shame and a caution and an eldritch horror. If he’d only gotten the hell out of his aunties’ attic and obtained a job with the federal writer’s project of the WPA, he could have turned out guidebooks that would have been classics and joys to read forever, only he stayed up there, muffled up to the tip of his long gaunt New England chin against the cold which lay more in his heart than in his thermometer, living on 19 cents worth of beans a day, rewriting (for pennies) the crappy manuscripts of writers whose complete illiteracy would have been a boon to all mankind — ah, but life is a boon — and producing ghastly, grisly, ghoulish, and horrifying works of his own as well: of man-eating things which foraged in graveyards, of human/beastie crosses which grew beastlier and beastlier as they grew older, of gibbering Shoggoths and Elder beings which smelt real bad and were always trying to break through thresholds and take over; rugous, squamous, amorphous nasties abetted by thin, gaunt New England eccentrics who dwelt in attics and who were eventually never seen or heard from again. Serve them damn well right, I say. In short, Howard was a twitch, boys and girls, and that’s all there is to it.”

Howard (Lovecraft) wasn’t/isn’t the only ‘twitch’ in the room, though Blinko is more shivered than twitchy. Cacophony is not a ‘pretty sight’ — but it is a sight; check. And as with repressive-headmaster-Blinko, we see opposing personas relieving tension, reconciliation a la Heraclitus. Compare the humorous pith of the headmaster in eliciting the charm from a grim subject with Blinko’s authentic capacity for wiping the smile off of the universe(s)’ face, to bottom out even cute puppies or sunshine in the pit of one’s stomach. Case in point: “Gentlemen prefer blood in this day and age, well, really,” and “Everyone wants to kill someone, but they don’t,” and, of course, instructions for parenting titular “Lovecraft baby,” “Feed it reg’lar / How it grows!” And compare the headmaster’s ginger-beer-sipping “ah, but life is a boon!” with Blinko’s sobering appraisal, “The grave is god’s dying plan.”

The peculiar thing is that the obviously unraveled Blinko unleashes psychological aptitude basically unequalled by even Machen or James or Nabokov, forget Lovecraft himself. His incisive social commentary is simply terrifying in its perspicacity: “But science foils our phobias / Noiseless faceless / For faces frighten neighbors.” His reconnaissance of the human psyche is always from an evolutionary perspective (so, with Lovecraft): “Origins unknown out of Africa skin change psychesame fresh prejudice / Collapsing cosmoses dreaming of adrenalin deathrush cosmology / Early earth atmosphere ancient death atmosphere happenstance.” “Macabre Heritage” — a sort of split-personality roll call — ends with “Poe,” … but it begins with “Cave art.” And “Zenophobia” aptly connects social terror and hate (that “psychesame fresh prejudice”) with the concretized fear of the unknown — the lack of illumination — the dark, eulogizing or notarizing or celebrating (how you would), “We are gathered here today to pour scorn on inhumanity’s weaknesses and foibles / A fear of cellars, crypts, and caves / Underground hollow evacuated lecture theatre / Shadow strewn interior / Abandoned gas house / Topomaniac genophobia dispophobia gymophobia philophobia / Scholophobia phenophobia panophobia / Our leader fears the dark / Have a nasty night!” Blinko’s sagacity intends to himself, too, sympathetically accounting for his enfeebled mind (“You don’t need pot to see Pan / You don’t need pot to see Pan / I’m a little girl I’m a little girl I’m a little girl I’m a little girl / And I formed a dislike for killing things which could not fight back”) and yet unapologetic for his inappropriateness (“Rudiments of genteel behavior / Hairy wig / Yak! / You have hit a nerve, Sir”) even though it’s, at the root, a tragic self-consignment (“Send her to Bedlam obnoxious to strangers”).

The political commentary may be how we know Blinko is still … ‘rational.’ Rudimentary Peni’s anarcho-punk roots are deliciously unfurled in lines like, “What do you want the nouveau riche house of Windsor / The jaded sentimentality of the uninvaded people person,” “Sickle star hammer stripes stripe sickle stars hammer star corpse / Knighthoods, lands and refinement for yesterday’s bullies’ derision,” “Alienists alienate alien alienists alienate alien nations,” and “O America, we are not a gun-boat for your lack of diplomacy / As we were now so shall ye be / Government by the people by the people fool the people.” It’s jarring to realize they’re — and we, the listeners — in 1987, Common Era, whoopdeedoo, at Southern Studios; Cacophony feels ancient. There’s even a snide ‘chronistic,’ nay, timely politico-Bardic moment in “Jabbering/Raucous Squawk, Harsh Cackle/Sir Algovale Was Right The Bastard Faulconbridge Speaks” (that’s the song title) from Shakespeare’s King John: “This England never did, nor ever shall lie at the proud foot of a conqueror / But when it first did help to wound itself / Now these her princes are come home again / Come the three corners of the world in arms / And we shall shock them / Nought shall make us rue if England to itself be true!” (V.vii) …cue the re-election of Thatcher.

But it’s not the politicization that governs Cacophony — it’s the cosmic casuistry. The central question, and its cacophonous answer, is whether Lovecraft’s provision is safe now that he’s dead — for Blinko, the mouth is the only sphincter, whether wrought (wreaking) through ‘song’ or ‘Del Ray.’ And in “The Loved Dead,” Blinko narrates, “They’ve taken Lovecraft’s lantern jaw off and are embalming him,” concluding that “the adoration of dead personalities [is] safe fantasia.” Could Blinko believe this? Cacophony documents the unmitigated collapse of his haggard, sweaty mind. But the last line clarifies what, exactly, is safe, and for whom. As with Lovecraft’s witless scholars who have their conception of the cosmos irreparably shattered, mortals don’t touch what’s on the shelf, and there’s never an exception — surely not “memory man” Blinko. Instead, vindicated is the “immortality of the unobtainable.” For as Heraclitus said, “Immortals are mortal, mortals are immortal: each lives the death of the other, and dies their life.” But the unobtainable? That’s forever.

by Brittany Tracy