KID SHIRT

Saturday, March 22, 2008

MEDROXY PROGESTERONE ACETATE

I've been getting these packages for a while now, post-marked Iowa, USA. They come packaged in ribbons and candle-wax, with blurred polaroids and Bible-cards and novella-length texts that have been scissored into hand-made cut-ups.

I'd like to tell you about some of them, if you'll let me.

It might take a few minutes, so make yrself a cup of tea and sit down, or something. Bear with me.



Dark frequencies haunt the top-end of "Vons Serin Exchanging Frequencies With Cicadas" by Medroxy Progesterone Acetate; viral wavelengths that play tricks with those tiny, little bones in yr ears, triggering spooky eye-flicker and transient coma-states...making me anxious about things that don't even exist yet; fearful for moments still yet to come.



Elsewhere in the mix, things are deceptively calm and bombast-free (well, relatively speaking - this isn't Whitehouse or Prurient; we're not talking Power Electronics or macho post-Metal noise here...)...this is Noise that's not noisey - the minute sounds that sit uneasily between other sounds...and this sense of mild, unanchored unease only really takes hold when you put on a pair of head-phones and hear (no, feel) those rogue waveforms skittering around back n forth in the space betwn yr eyeballs, inducing some sort of lucid daydreaming or a low-level panic attack. It's all v. subtle at first, starting with non-specific sound-flutter and what sounds like backwards-masking bees or the mating-calls of shop-window mannequins; plastic voices, tongues coated in slowly hardening candle-wax...

[Insert something here about Local Hospital Radio; it being a, I dunno, 'soundtrack' to low-key deformities or a physiotherapy work-out CD piped into the lobby of some quietly awful hotel for The Dispossessed blahblahblah...three carbon-copies please, Rachel; one sealed and date-stamped to be sent to my solicitor marked "In The Event of My Death"...]

Hey, I'm listening now, but I'm also watching, okay? (grey plumes of steam swirl skywards from rooftop vents; grey crenulated rooves (sic) hide the horizon, slated with guano-splattered asbestos and perspex, home to a pseudo-flock of beligerent urban seagulls (they think they're clifftops, the 'rooves', I mean - so to stop them nesting there the owners have called in a professional falconer); fibreoptic cables snake their way across the flat tar-papered roof of a nearby portakabin, while thin, selfconscious sunlight glints off an aluminium duct: I'm surprised at how easily this music has sucked all the meaning out of my surroundings, making them feel hollow and incomplete, almost redundant; I'm a viewer now, not a participant)

{{IT WASN'T A FLUKE; THE NEXT TIME I PLAYED THIS IT STILL MADE ME FEEL FUNNY}}

At about 5 minutes-in those frequencies I told you about started making me feel awkward and isolated; at 8 minutes (the piece is 38 mins long) one of my hands started shaking; but just one of them, not the other. There was an odd tightening in my lower abdomen; a sensation of inner vibration, of muscles beginning a slow spastic tango; I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, y'see, so I speak as One Enlightened To The Ways Of Peristaltic DisFunction...this isn't about resonant frequencies (this music isn't noisy, you unnerstan'; it's...); I mean, it's not like going to see Sunn o))) or OM or Digital Mystikz and growing a sonic throat-goitre or having yr diaphragm breached by sub-bass: this feels (more) like some parasympathetic response to the top-line squiggles dancing around somewhere just above my sinuses; I bet if I took these headphones off, it'd...



(Control texts from another era - discombobulated voices speaking to us from the Past. How dare these Arab Ghosts expect us to obey them!)

It's like Coil without the vocals, without the gayness...Coil strip-mined of the avant.sauciness and the cheeky trangressional Pop.Cult-Ur-al references; lipstick wiped from an MDMA grimace. The last time music made me feel just plain weird like this was when I saw Coil 4 or 5 years ago (as documented on "And The Ambulance Died in His Arms" (them, not me)) - well, part of it was their light-show, I think, which was incredibly trippy: squares of light overlapping w/ other squares - grids dancing/endless permuations going in and in and in and out of focus, like looking at the inside of your own head, forever, and all of that low frequency rumble (which is missing here, but isn't missed)...but, no, none of that; instead, just that feeling of feeling all wrong, of being on the edge of coming-up on something; well, it made me feel like that again, this did, but different...it inverted the act of 'looking' until I wasn't sure any more exactly what I was looking at, and that's when the quiet terror begins...that sense of being at the edge of the Ominous, but unsure...

It's that flickering eyeball thing again; something to do with 'Standing Waves' - a low frequency hum in the 19-20Hz range that can create paranormal experiences pretty much to order...the vibrating eyeball causes visual-field disturbances that are often interpreted as apparitions, while a growing sense of unease in the lower-bowel triggers a fight-or-flight reaction via a bio-feedback loop. "Vons Serin Exchanging Frequencies With Cicadas" seems to induce a similar reaction in me, despite the lack of serious low-end in the track...but only on headphones, mind, so I suspect some sort of eyeball-quivering is maybe being induced at the top end of the mix; something embedded in the treble response - I feel it mainly between the eyes...so perhaps some sort of Ajna Chakra/Third Eye/Pineal Gland stimulation thing goin' on here...

At around 9 minutes, sheets of flanged sound scrape up against each other, decaying down into overlapping layers of hummmmm n hisssssssss n warble...I get a glimpse of some 3-dimensional machine, pulsing and pushing against the limits of its own skin. A little later, something attempts to land...

14 minutes and we're deep within the hardened arteries of some vast machine, tracking our way through channels of sound and light and activity; frequency-swarms erupt low in the mix, revealing new levels of detail, almost fractal, as new sub-structures emerge, manifesting themselves as tiny nubs of texture...above, something large and triangular unfolds its deltoid wings, covering our position with the accoustic equivalent of a shadow, like some monstrous alien stealth-bomber passing overhead, partially visible in the gaps between the buildings/columns/towers of sound...something awful starts to happen at around 18 minutes, some new infiltration arrives from Outside, n the background texture starts to seeeeeeath and strain against itself....sound-objects slowly fold in on themselves; the monoliths descend into the ground, like the buildings in Marineville; quasi-organic warbles and squeaks push against something that sounds muffled, like a flapping cloth...a tea-towel that settles on a baby-demon hungry for some unspeakable milk...liquid-machines wriggle in and out of enormous turbines...granular rattle and high-end squawk; malignant, darkly phosphorescent photographs come to life, their surfaces swimming with sentient moisture; rivulets of noise running together, combining into some terrible hive-machine.

This is the sound-track to Grant Morrison's Outer-Church, a world magnificent in its sheer awfulness. It's Throbbing Gristle, but without that itchy-scratchy Death Guitar sound of theirs; without the sermonising, without the Art and the artifice. Pioneers, perhaps, but TG weren't the start of something, they were the death of something else: the Death of the Guitar (we're living in its After-life); it's final spasms, its moans and whinges...a long, drawn-out death-scene, hammily over-acted by Gen P-O to the very last. TG as Rock's last, unwanted extended encore: "Boo! Hiss! Gerroff, you wallies!"

But who'd thought that we'd end up here, eh: cast adrift w/ something that is vaguely recognisable as some distant descendant of SPK (but w/out the reportage and the refried schlock) or an implausibly long analogue of an early Hafler Trio track, except it's not: this is unashamably psychedelic, yet also Gothicised in places and somehow also mechanoidal; it's cinematic in some unfathomable way; far too fucking interesting to be Ambient and faa-a-a-rrrr too detached from any recognisable Post-Rave 90s synthbubblebabble like Space-Time Continuum or Reflective Records; shiney and metallic, yet also dark, w/ constantly morphing analogue style sound-structures grafted onto the grainy granularity of digital media...

But, he-e-y, who woulda thought we'd end up here, eh?

So, yeah, if "Vons Serin Exchanging Frequencies With Cicadas" artificially induced some odd sub-species of biological tension in me, then "Unrequited" (a live track!) seems almost relaxing by comparison - full of queasy, low-end tilt and languid sea-sickness, its peculiar sine-waves emulating a ship that's rocking in slow-motion as it slides out to sea on a muddy tide. This is Dubstep hoovered of its beats and dancehall/dancefloor inflections, its subterranean throb stripmined of physicality and replaced by a sluggish bipolar lurch, back and forth, to and fro, on and on, across a green, algae-stained osciliscope screen...

There's a roughness, an abrasive quality to these otherwise glacial frequencies as they see-saw and occasionally spike up into the red, quietly shredding themselves...I was strangely reminded of an old man's beard glistening with frost: what was once a proud symbol of vigour and authority now seems stately, but sad; a surreal reminder of the diminished stature of its owner.

{{I THINK I ONCE DREAMT THAT I WROTE THIS REVIEW; YES, I'M NOW SURE I DID}}

The track is airless and hermetic, like being sealed inside a huge bell-jar. An emotional vacuum. "Unrequited" is a good title for this: the flow of sound 'sounds' one-way, a pale signal coming out of something or perhaps even being recieved by some passive receptor (it's hard to tell which, but we'll settle for the later for the sake of a metophor)...as the track progresses the illusion slowly builds that the sonics are being mutely absorbed somehow, or else they're falling over the edge of a minute event-horizon, out past the listener's point-of-view; the sound is blankly accepted, dampened as if it's been soaked up by an old curtain; accoustically flattened, it gives nothing back, no echo or reflection of itself: it sounds like an old married couple, one half-dead or no longer bothered by much in particular, glumly sat waiting for the end of something, but what?

This spectral dark-star matter; this negative albedo; this artificial metal that mutes light from the stars. I'm thinking of urns: receptacles for dead people, a dead sound sitting somewhere on the other side of this piece of music... not Stars of The Lid, but A Lid on The Stars. John Cale's playing an organ in the next room. Terry Riley on horse tranqs. "No Pussyfooting" stripped of its creamy opulence and frippery.



"We're a Monotonous Band" on (yay!) good ol' MYMWLY is a collection of 8 shorter pieces (the longest is 13mins; the shortest 2-and-a-half): more malfunctioning machines and buzzing foundnoise halfscapes with great titles! "Teenage Basement Spaceship" sounds exactly like you imagine it might, shifting from a brief monged-out/tape-stretched drugchat intro to shimmering metal-flake-sprayed oscillations that come off as the missing-link between, ohhh I dunno, HT's "The Sea-Org" and the "Forbidden Planet" OST...featuring incomprensible blocks of dayglo alien machinery that slide up and down the sound-scale thru shifting tunnels of solid light.

"Paleyellowpurple" and "The Story of the Solehn Sisters, Who Were in Love With Each Other" both contain length spoken-word interjections, surreal ssssshort stories and otherworldly monologues that help take the music off to somewhere else (and vice versa). The insertion of prepared text and found-vocals is a trend that I sincerely hope MPA continue with.

Actually, I found the album got even more interesting as it went along: as we appraoch the final furlong on the CD "How Does the Skin Man get his Skin?" starts sounding like some wounded humanoid stalking the sewers: eerie, yet also solemnly touching in some way, with little damaged animal noises leaking in from the side-tunnels, while a sluggish mechanoid haltingly lurches through the sewage. It could almost be the soundtrack to some impossibly weird short-film...more overtly organic, I reckon, than some of the earlier pieces...

But my own personal favourite might be "The Necropsych Snowblind Blues Band Performs Overdriven Liturgical Dirges for Lotte Reiniger"...here, snippets of subterranean Dero-talk pan back n forth between ominous-sounding synthetic cellos which suddenly erupt out into distorted Telecaster skree...it's like some nightmarish phonecall from another world, with particles of sound dancing in the air like jittery rice-grains hopping on the membrane of a drum or fireflies chasing their own tails in a remote midsummers-night clearing...here, the layers of distortion seem to bubble and rub up against each other, the sound circling off to one side dn a plug-hole or into an old-fashioned telephone mouthpiece. High-pitched whistles start and then stop again...then there's a trumpet (or something) buried deep beneath the accreted digital scribble - it wobbles uncertainly as if it's rotating in space; untouched by human lips, but being blown by an uncertain breeze of quantal aether...It all sounds quite lovely to my damaged ears, but in an unlovely way...there's vague touches of Christian Fennesz towards the end of this one, or rather his trip-damaged nephew fleeing to Vienna Airport in a taxi that hurtles thru blurred, off-colour Lynchian streets, y'dig?

Phew.

Actually, MPA releases even smell nice: this one has a stange whiff embedded in the sealing-wax that reminds me of coconut suntan oil, or maybe it's an aromotherapy hex thang or some Sesame-seed oil spell designed to bind me to his will in the Afterlife, in wh/ case it's working. I am now a zombie typing-robot unable to leave my braille keypad and doomed forever to do something or other...

I love the whole interlinked 'multi-media' (fuck, I hate that word) approach that MPA takes: there's layer upon layer of subtexts and 'characters' embedded in his releases: as you dig deeper it transpires that certain tracks (or albums!) are themselves soundtracks for unfinished movies featuring 'personas' who turn up in text pieces accompanying other releases and who have particular attributes that feed back into other narratives or the recording of another track...on and on and on until madness beckons you with its fickle boney finger...

It's fair to say that I feel a certain affinty with MPA as an artist...I recognise some of his strategies as ones I've used myself, but he's drilled sooooo deep into his own personal soundworld and inner mythologies that I can only look on and marvel...

This is the one that started my own slow-growin' obsession w/ his back-catalogue when it arrived in a smear of photocopies, wax and blood-red ribbons, bedeck'd in the faint o-dour of aniseed:



The guy had serious chops; you could just tell straight away. The boundaries betwn Art, Music and Lit were immediately blurred: every part of this package was part of some larger whole, but just how interconnected everything was has taken me months to slowly realise.

I fucking looooove "Organ Reversal" with its slowly rotating and roiling drones: static skips and dances like an oblique gtr solo, or is it a guitar skipping and crackling like static? Behind it a thick soupy fog of sound drifts in and out of focus. It's beyond fabulous; it sounds like a vast tender beast circling itself, endlessly stalking its own thoughts until it collapses into an inky, fuzz-lined pool of indifference.



Messages, coded spells...a game of Wavelength Scrabble breaks out on "Hang Down Your Noose And Cry" as child-machines duel for a missing parent's affection. Elsewhere, processed vocal-mumble gurgles in the aftermath of some arcane Turbine War, or (on "Waterloo Mushroom Monastery") a monstrous planet-sized Hum resolves itself into a horrific sine-wave polaroid of some forgotten 12-bit Digital Fetish-Form: surrealist bird-princes chirrup in the background as the waveforms quicken, repeating faster n faster, inducing the same sort of non-quantifiable bio-anxiety as "Vons Serin..."

"Jesus, why listen to something like that...would you want you put yourself through something like that?" asked an acquaintance of mine when I tried to expain it to her.

"Well, why wouldn't you?" I asked her. She just shrugged.



It's not noisy, it's just intense. Tho something ugly lurks behind the partition of sound that shimmers halfway thru the sound-field of "Apparitionist"...it's just background microphone bumps, but it translates as something odder, as if some physical force is trying to gain entry to my 1973 garage...again, the soundtrack to "Forbidden Planet" is invoked as an amplified alien Id crashes against a steel door, except here you hear its voice too, whispering and growling its secret frustrations...

First time I heard this shit, I thought (even tho it sounds nuthin' like Ice Bird Spiral) that we'd found a brother/sister band.

The last track - "The Pig That Stood Upright" - is astonishing. I'm not going to even attempt to describe it. When I originally spoke to D (the hub that all this shit seems to spin around), he said:

"...yeah, the last song took me about a year and a half to finally get it where I wanted it, as it was originally gonna be on the MYMWLY album, but it took too long to finish, and the other songs fell into place along the way. I've noticed that for whatever reason, my songs usually end up right around the ten minute mark, and this album is no exception. Originally, most of these songs were going to have vocals, but getting voice-recordings from people is like pulling teeth. That might not be so bad, however, as I think I'd be pushing my luck with more than a couple on an album."

What are the written text pieces from - is this some stuff you've been working on?

D: "Yeah -- one of the things I've been trying to do with MPA is incorporate different things I do into one project, so there's usually some kind text that comes with each album. This one is mostly a story from 1998 (I *think*) and began as an attempt to write a Peter Pan style children's story, but obviously that went in a different direction. All the Vons Serin material (of which there's just a bit included here) is pretty much a ripoff of the Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání with Vons Serin as Abul-Fath al-Iskanderi. I have a habit (also a kinda gimmick) of cutting stories up into smaller chunks, which is how I write them, and that way they seem easier to approach and if they don't completely make sense or fit together it's not as unexpected. This is one of those things I could talk about for too long..."



Some old emails from last year:

"Right now I'm living in Waterloo, which is a fairly large city (for Iowa, at least), but unless your band has some sort of rock/punk angle it's pretty closed for shows. It's definitely possible there's some sort of scene I don't know about, as I'm pretty much a hermit. For a while some friends and I put on shows in a machine-shed outside of town and basically ripped off Terry Riley (we called these shows All Night Fright, just to make that fact clear) but the shed is gone now. Since then, any "local" shows I've played have usually been in Iowa City, which is about an hour and a half south of here. I've done a bit of tape-trading with the Raccoo-oo-oon gentlemen, but usually when I'm in Iowa City they're on tour, which is a shame as they're a phenomenal live band (Yep, I agree! - Kek) . Between Iowa City and the Quad Cities there's quite a few really good bands and we've been getting some excellent touring bands off and on. If I had any common sense I'd just move back there...

"The stuff I do now I basically started when I was a little kid, making pause-button edit tapes of "scary stories" with sound effects records. In high school I did more tape edit stuff as BFP and started messing with rewiring tape recorders. Medroxy Progesterone Acetate officially started when I released my first album under that name in 1999 on my vanity label Midwest Death Cult after I started messing with computer programs like Pure Data and building my own noise devices in earnest. Music I make now is just as likely to have these old recordings somewhere in the mix. For a few years I mostly gave away albums to strangers or left them in public places, but a 2005 collaboration I did with Chicago band Number None entitled "Damp And Damned" seemed to go over okay, so I've been trying to be a bit more public in the past couple of years. That said, it's all still pretty hermetic.

"Probably the only phrase I always use when describing my music is psychedelic headphone music, music for listening when you're staring blankly at the ceiling. Noise is apt (that's what my mom would call it) but it's definitely more internal than more punk-influenced noise. Sometimes I call it necropsych, stealing a clinical term a friend of mine introduced me to, but as a genre title it's not very clear. The only conscious plan I have is blurring the distinction between analog and digital, as everything gets bounced from thrift-store amps to homemade filters to plug-ins and back again, so hopefully it's never immediately obvious what the source of any specific sound might have been.

"There's some pretty exciting things in the works, the biggest being the upcoming MYMWLY album "We're A Monotonous Band", which should be dropping soon. I'm releasing a split 7" with Warmth which now seems to have found a home -- it's a bit soon to tell, but this is shaping up to be a really nice package. There's also a split cdr with Indiana heavies Robe. out on DumpsterScore later this year. Other stuff is still a bit blurry, but chances are good there will be a collection of "Teraphim Mystery Recordings" and probably a reissue of "The Worm In The Womb Of The World."

Uh, then we started talking about synths and homemade electonics:

"Yeah, the ax80 is a great synth with one downside, it's all membrane buttons and one big knob (like the dx7), so it requires some time to program and the buttons will probably need a quick resoldering, but the synth itself is really nice. Since you've already got the s-612, keep an eye out for the ax73, which has inputs to run the sampler through the filters/envelopes. All the Akai synths sell for cheap (I got mine for a hundred bucks) so it's worth a look.

"The homemade (electronics) stuff is all very cobbled-together and questionable, and compared to stuff someone like Pulse Emitter , its building is crude at best, but it works pretty well, although I have to avoid certain sounds. For instance, the modified casio mt240 is all over the earlier Wolf Eyes albums, so instead of using direct audio-out I'm routing the circuits directly into other equipment before it hits the internal amplifier. I keep meaning to start a weblog about this stuff, but it definitely isn't happening in the summer. Sometimes I get kinda self-conscious about the fact that I can't really play in the regular band kinda way, particularly when I do collaborations with people who have some formal training, but I figure if it was good enough for Coil ("I sometimes think that people who are conventional musicians must think that we're appalling") then it's good enough for me!"

Tell me about Vons Serin...

"...it's about a woman named Julietta Levana, who supposedly put on something called The Theater Of Diminished Faculties. These performances, each of which was held only once and contained an audience of one, took place after a day of preparation (which, depending on various unreliable sources, consisted of hypnosis, feasting, drug abuse, interrogation, sensory deprivation, ganzfeld experiments and being buried alive) and took place within a miniature stage which the audience would view through lenses attached to the head.

"These performances each lasted about an hour, and each contained a character named Vons Serin, a figure of Midwest legend who could alter a person's memory with her voice. Vons Serin undertakes a series of highly Symbolist adventures, which were acted out upon a diorama-stage through singing insects, magnets, shadow marionettes, miniature automata and live actors who appeared on panes of shifting glass via the Dircksian Phantasmagoria, among others.

"Levana was part of a larger troupe called the Yu-Niwa Lodge, which included a small orchestra utilizing specialized musicians and vocalists as well as voice actors -- since the audience could not move back from the eyepiece during the performance, the troupe could approach from any direction without being seen, and many of the voice parts for special characters (particularly Vons Serin) were done simultaneously by multiple voice actors, often whispering directly into the ear of the audience. Over the course of the second part, Owen learns about a number of these performances through second-hand knowledge -- the Yu-Niwa lodge later broke up, and pieces of this material were utilized by other members of the Lodge as well as by audiences and historians of the Empyreal Network of Private, Hidden and Traveling Libraries... Though that's probably more confusing than anything.

"The thing is, all the primary characters have specific attributes as far as the audio stuff is concerned -- there's a Vons Serin tone that's somewhere in the mix with any song that contains her as a character. I kinda feel like Christian Vander when I actually explain this! I've been working on this material for *ever*, and there's literally piles of it, so it's tricky to discuss -- I have a bad habit of assuming people know all the backstory, so even though I'm okay with being confusing, it's sometimes more confusing than it needs to be. "

Could you explain the stuff about The Black Hawk Rollerdrome...?

"The Black Hawk Rollerdrome is a roller-skating rink out on the edge of town, and behind it is this old swamp which is always a good place to trudge around and get field-recordings. With most of my songs it starts with a root drone, and most of the time that's actually a processed sound of tree frogs or rusted farm equipment or sewer drains. Most of the voice stuff I do at the same time; if I try to record myself here at the house it never comes out right, but if I'm out somewhere it's easier to do one take and live with the results instead of trying to get it right.

"A good example of this is the upcoming Blearyeared tape, where all the songs start with recordings from '97 during an aborted attempt to film a kind of nightmarish fairy-tale about three babysitters who turn a suburban home into a cross-dimensional no-gate in order to destroy Reality. All that material was recorded at an abandoned, flood-damaged house where I lived for about a month kinda in the same area as the swamp. I should draw a map!"

And he did! Cheers, D!

2 Comments:

At 12:38 am, Blogger PARNELL said...

Darren is amazing. His packages are fucking incredible, the devices he builds awesome, and he's an all-around great guy. Great to see this shit getting analyzed like this.

Gus M.

 
At 8:41 am, Blogger kek-w said...

Yeah, I'll roger that - the guy's got an amazing talent and he's a total dude.

If there was any justice he'd be as well known as all the usual suspects...

 

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