Various Artists - Portland (RRRecords 3xLP)

Second of two noise "geographical surveys" this year, and fourth total following New England, Texas and California. All of which RRRecords had at least a hand in, if I'm not mistaken. And people talk about Sufjan Stevens doing an album per state as if it was some sort of accomplishment. Hah! I only own the "California" and "Portland" boxes but it's safe to say "Portland" sure doesn't compare in terms of packaging, but then what did you expect from RRR? This is as grungy as it gets - three records in paper sleeves sammiched between a folded piece of cardboard spraypainted and hand-markered accordingly, probably by a famous noise person (maybe even RRRon himself! Although he might be delegating too). Same format though - six artists occupying six sides of vinyl, the chosen few being Daniel Menche, Bdong, Okha, Nkondi, Smegma and Pulse Emitter. I'm in no place to whine about who got the shaft and who shouldn't be there so I'll leave that up to the dudes on the I Heart Noise forums. Oh you crazy...dudes. In what can only be described as a bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime coincidence, the order I listed the names in above is the same order that the artists got played in which is the same order I'll be discussing them in tonight! No I don't know if that makes sense...shiiiit.
Portland's Daniel Menche plays a piece called "Emanuel Hospital" which is very much in the same (ruling) vein as his most recent blasterworks "Concussions" and "Jugularis". Starts out like you, a bag of marbles and a dryer in motion, a whole endless season of audible and physical clanks but it somehow gets even faster, transmogrifying into a spun blur before your eyes/ears. And also like other Menches I menche-ioned (hahaha!), you either start noticing or start imagining distinct, complex patterns and rhythm pulling apart and shifting throughout the chaos...similar to a plane rotating on its axis, simultaneously scaling both X and Y. You'll know when you hear it. It's mind-deying. It's another episode of As the World Churns. Menche's equipped with the best ending possible to a piece like this too, a "this is your stop" style bonging sound. A ripper of the highest order.
I'm not entirely familiar with Portland's Bdong but I understand he doesn't play live anymore and may release things only sporadically (a noise artist with a sense of self-control? It's a first!). His side is pretty cool though: a slow-melting, cave-dwelling drip of ambiente noire electronics, doubling up with unearthly growls and dark cosmos extrapolation. It's sounds remarkably removed from a lot of current noise artists I'm hearing but I'll have to remind you I'm not expert. Maybe John Wiese minus a good deal of the low-end and more haunted sonicscapes? Whatever the case, sounds to me like Bdong has got his own thing going...not all that harsh but certianly not a picnic in Point Pleasant neither. Surreptitiously plays out like the background noise to an Art Bell radio show call-in, extra-dimensional beings indeed. A side I'll have to spend more time with to truly appreciate, I think.
Portland's Okha (who isn't even identified on the record's sticker label, I had to look it up myself to see who it was) opens with a pseudo-edgy pro-Nazi soundclip which is unfortunately the most intriguing sound to be heard on the whole side. The rest is a good 17ish minutes of droning, high-pitched frequencies that waver on-and-off enough to remind of that "Whistling Kettle Quartet" album Reynols had back in the day, or something by Montreal duo [the user]. Punctuating this endless whirr is the odd Conet Project-y shortwave radio transmission (literally, not metaphorically as above) featuring male voices speaking in unrecognizable tongues. Either that or I didn't put my ear close enough to the speaker. Which may be the problem altogether since I get the feeling Okha's piece would work a lot better through headphones but it's late and I'm not about to bust it right now. I'll have to admire the restraint here but otherwise, not much else holds my interest.
Portland's Nkondi are also unfamiliar territory for me, and this side probably comes across as the most "generically noisiest" side on the whole thing, not that I mean that as a bad thing. It works in a kind of Masonna-esque jumpy fervor, heavily abused electronics and intense feedbacking filtering to your system like a contact mic dropped into a swarm of whining larvae. The high-pitched tones make it a pretty good companion side to Okha's, only this one's considerably more active, not to mention harsh. Tough to come up with any real sources of comparison, the whole thing sounds like Nkondi "playing" a plugged-in cat and processing its yowls. Take that to mean what you will. Pretty decent by my standards at least.
Portland's Smegma never fail to deliver and serve up a typically baffling/indescribable take on "Dust Bowling Ballads" according to the vinyl itself (it's actually one long piece but you knew that already). It's also a take on "music" that even today sounds like nothing else you've ever heard, totally unaffected and at the same time hugely influenced by everything found wallowing in homeless area ghetto underbellies. It's hard to even pinpoint what's happening on a Smegma record, or even want to, but I can tell you the curious sounds here are at least pushed along by the unusual suspects - Oblivia's turntables and wrecked records, Dr Id's disorienting electronics, Burned Mind's sparse percussion skinflinting, Conroy's flummoxing vibraband and some intense reedwork by, via process of elimination, I'm assuming Ju Suk Reet Meate. But shit, it all collides like nothing you've ever come across before, like unicorns fucking fairies or something like that. Add to all that initially-creepy than oddly-informative samples about the nature and history of dustbowls and an incredible coda featuring a decidedly-rock drum beat and a noodly country/punk guitar squabble...you've got the making of an indeed baffling but no less brilliant side. Just when you thought you knew them in 2006, too.
Portland's Pulse Emitter has the unenviable (though randomly determined) task of closing out the set and does so pretty admirably I think...the motif for the side is set upon reading "live to 2 tracks, just analog modulator" on the label. Begins with a slow, gonging intonation and proceeds to eventually heap a whole buncha synth napalm garble onto that till the monotone stomp abandons you and you're left to fend off the remainder of the blazing electronic bombs. Sometimes they get so high-pitched you think they disappear but you can still hear their mere presence on the wax and sure enough the sounds come streaking back in risking deafness and/or worse. Before the groove is out though the low pulsing rumbles return, and then the synth scribbles, and you're back all over to square one. And then it's over.
Clearly the vets delivered on "Portland" and I was slightly disappointed that the sides from the artists I wasn't all too familiar with didn't blow me away, but I guess that's a personal thing like my choice of Tampax size or what have you. Pulse Emitter and Bdong were both good, Nkondi's wasn't bad and I wasn't too huge on Okha but at the end of the day the only ones that blew me away were the ones I was expecting to. Oh well, what're you gonna do? Still a solid set and still a pretty decent steal at only $30 or whatever it is...but it's limited to 300 so don't bide your time too too much now.


Anonymous DaveX said...

Great review! I dig your sense of humor, too-- "menche-ioned" hahahaha


12/11/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Outer Space Gamelan said...

Glad I'm amusing somebody other than myself here... =)

12/11/2006 10:21 PM  

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