Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Ophibre - Chronic Complications (No Kings, 2011)

There’s quite a big chance Ophibre’s Chronic Complications will peel your skin off. The whole concept behind the tape and the music on the cassette reminds me of a short story by J.G. Ballard called “Venus Smiles”. It tells the tale of the so-called “musical sculptures”, which emit pleasant, meditative drones for pedestrians and bystanders to enjoy. One of them, however, is not in tune – it keeps making atonal, dissonant noise, horrifying the listeners. The main character takes the sculpture and places it in his garden because no one else wants to listen to it. The sculpture begins to grow and expand, gradually overgrowing his whole garden and threatening to envelop his entire house. Chronic Complications is this sculpture.
            Two long tracks, one for each side. Side A’s “Untitled Performance for Hand Build Synthesizers” is a recording of a live performance by Rossingol documenting some of the rawest circuit abuse I’ve ever heard. The tape manages to convey the brutal physicality of the music, a series of rising and falling glacial drones which feel so powerful one can keep wondering how the amplifiers did NOT catch fire during that performance. The sounds resemble mating calls of futuristic animals, hybrids of discarded machines and flesh, something straight out of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian mind. Things get only harsher toward the end of the track, becoming a full-on sonic assault in the style of Hong Chulki. This is the sonic equivalent of brutalist architecture. No beauty, no smoothness, just the sound itself, stripped of all ornaments, exposing its ugly, reinforced concrete skeleton.
            “An Arbitrary Drone Destruct Patch”, despite its name, is not as brutal and destructive as side A. At least in the beginning – the initially solid, featureless and seemingly endless drone is gradually deconstructed and flooded with synth patches layering upon each other and attacking the initial drone with waves of glitches and high-pitched pulsing, smothering the sound under an acerbic wall of noise. Not harsh, purely anarchic noise of, say, Merzbow. At the very end of Ballard’s “Venus Smiles”, the hellish sculpture is finally cut into little pieces and melted in the foundry. The end of the track is exactly this – one entity being cut into microscopic outbursts of noise and ending abrubtly, as the very last atom is dissolved in chaos.
            Chronic Complications is one of the most brutal, unrelenting and cathartic sonic experiences I’ve come across – brutal as hell without retreating to the death/sex fetish/pornographic/genocide imagery most noise acts surround them with. Maybe it’s because Benjamin Rossignol is above any “ideology” – he’s an explorer of possibilities of electronic instruments and a purveyor of Drone, not a rebellious nihilist.

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