Review Summary: Enter The Void
Since the late ‘90s, Erstwhile Records has been opening eyes and turning heads with an experimental catalogue that is wholly unique. Though notable for incorporation of a wide range of genres, Erstwhile specializes in EAI, or Electroacoustic Improvisation, which is characterized by improvisation through the use of unconventional instruments (prepared guitars, turntables, laptops, etc) that are generally played to expose a more physical and textured aesthetic to sound. Erstwhile recordings typically feature collaborative efforts, usually in pairs (though sometimes more), and are allowed an extreme degree of freedom in recording; be it reinventing the way an instrument can be played, to deconstructing how we perceive the instrument, to taking sound and diminishing its volume to an extreme low or amplifying it to an extreme high. This level of freedom conducts some of the most unique, thrilling, and utterly alien music ever recorded. If the vast cosmic tapestry of music was framed into a universe, the music found on Erstwhile would be the impossible momentum, the invisible forces sucking life and matter into its sunken vortex of darkness and mystery, known here on Earth as the void of a black hole.
Ideally, looming at the center of this black hole would be Dystonia Duos
, the first Erstwhile collaboration between Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart. Both artists come from established backgrounds; Joe Panzner fresh off his blistering noise onslaught Clearing, Polluted
, and Greg Stuart fresh off the decks of his four album collaborative run with fellow electroacoustic wizard Michael Pisaro, documenting mysterious improvisations by way of droning sine waves and ominous field recordings. Kicking off this collaboration is “Organ b/w Timpani Solo”, opening with a gentle breeze of static and background rustling, indicating a live performance. Slowly a slight whirling sound is thrown into the mix, built up by increased rustling and various carving noises gently moving from ear to ear. Tension is built for the next ten minutes by ultra-thin sine waves slicing make-shift laboratory bleeps, ever so slightly multiplied and increased in volume. This results in a cold, dead air that’s left swaying a mournful choir of distorted electronics and static around an ever-growing drone, slowly pulsating a lifeless, machine-orchestrated death hum.
Guiding the casket is an aching, high-pitched squeal building an extreme sense of tension as barrels of forlorn static and noise fall into the rising pit. From here until its closing moments, every sound is slowly crushed between two walls of rusted, molten hot steel; deconstructing the mix to an unforgiving, hellish end. It’s important to note that, despite the title, a distinguishable “organ” or “timpani” is going to be difficult to decipher. This “organ” (of sorts) is likely processed through a laptop and distorted to levels that would only suggest noise. The “timpani” is likely the same, or tuned so depressingly low that it becomes inaudible. Following this opening funeral procession is “Dissection Puzzle”, gathered by a low static hum and glitched computer noise, before falling to the knees of an omnipresent demon and transforming to the will of his atrocious sonic agenda; a hideous, twisted, and gnarled protrusion of noise. Deafening vacuums of this harsh noise come shooting out of the wicked void throughout the duration of the song. This isn’t just a wall of random, insert-here aggression; this is highly prolific, layered, and dynamic noise that is cascaded by creaky field recordings and glitchy 404_error granting the mix with a sense of purpose and cohesion.
Rebooting the system is “Casa de Pedras”, which (unlike its predecessors) wastes no time in creating tension, evident by the wide histrionic grin on the face of a harsh wall of static that eagerly greets you. Artificial intelligence cries in the background of these walls, as if being cattle-prodded and shipped for mass consumption. The walls of static eventually crumble as a symphony of eerie, cicada-waves chirp inside a metallic barracks. Finally, a beeping, terminally-ill respirator guides Dystonia Duos
to a light at the end of a tunnel; casting a series of lucid sine-drones to where life ceases to exit. Dystonia Duos
may be utterly cold, harsh, and alien, but it rarely ceases to engage. This is an incredibly mastered approach to noise music, taking the usual doldrums of the genre and injecting it with infinitely layered, dynamic, and prolific production. Dystonia Duos
deserves to go down as a definitive noise record; taking music that is generally tedious, laborious, uneventful, and (in some cases) unlistenable, to a void that’s entertaining, provocative, and genuinely overwhelming; thanks to Joe Panzner’s crippling noise background and Greg Stuart’s meticulous sonic abstractions. Black holes are rumored to act as gateways between time and space, and when you find yourself sucked into this one; chances are you won’t come out the same.