Bruce Gilbert - Oblivio Agitatum [Editions Mego - 2009]Coincidence has it that just as I come round to reviewing Bruce Gilbertís( Wire's Guitarist) Oblivio Agitatum, Iíve just been revisiting (and hugely enjoying) Wire material in the two weeks before Ė or rather, Iíve been spinning their debut album Pink Flag on end. For some reason, Iíve never really bothered to seek out most of the rest of Wireís immense discography or their memberís solo efforts. I picked up Chairs Missing a few years back after having discovered and grown to love the aforementioned Pink Flag, but, amazingly, it bored me out of my seat, and so, I stuck to Pink Flag, and, truth be told, it has served me well these last few years, and I havenít tired of it a single bit.
So, then, Oblivio Agitatum, a solo effort by Bruce Gilbert, Wire guitarist and art punk enfant terrible. Wire, the group, has been a bumpy ride for most of its members, forming and disbanding, and then again, and again, in the meanwhile spawning a good number of side projects, including Dome and Cupol (both featuring Gilbert). Gilbert reputedly was always the most experimental musician of the bunch, and what little I have heard of his non-Wire works lives up to this reputation. Cupolís ĎLike This for Agesí, for instance, is a strange and disjointed post-punk monster; ĎOblivio Agitatumí, however, is less of an unconventional work.
Agreed, traditional song structures are largely Ė nay, completely Ė absent, and the sounds here bear little resemblance to, at least, anything art-punk or post-punk. However, for anyone whoís heard even half of an ambient record thereís going to be little surprise here. Oblivio Agitatum, at itís just over half an hour length, neatly puts before the listener much that heís heard before. The track ĎZerosí at almost 26 minutes is the longest track here and it offers soundscapes that drift by slowly, transforming ever calmingly from one shapeless form to another. It is the sonic equivalent of a blurry photograph in which nothing can really be discerned, but which has an aesthetic quality thatís quite pretty, or even beautiful, if youíre either quickly moved or prone to using superlatives, but it lacks the lack grit and substance making it slightly too fleeting and, altogether, unrewarding. Only as, you near the very end, crackling mechanic sounds work their way into the mix and the track is provided with its much-needed edge Ė an edge which, in wholly different musical contexts, was omnipresent on Pink Flag and Like This For Ages, but which is mostly sorely missed here.
The other two tracks are comparable but much more brief; the opener and title track has a sort of throbbing rub to it, almost synthy in quality, and is supported by the wavering sound of what seems like a bell or cymbal Ė some processed metal sound that is hard to pin down but, arguably, evocative. It is difficult not to let your imagination run wild, as the sounds here, unavoidably, are abstract enough to warrant interpretation on the side of the listener. Itís a good thing, as you are drawn in subtly, intrigued by the atmosphere and the odd and uncomfortable images that may float into your head. All in all, Gilbert is easily at his best here.
The albums closer sounds most like some old Wire B-side was run through ten thousand effect pedals, rubbed down to a smoothly flowing thing in which youíre confident you hear traditional instruments, and melody, and even the sensibility of a pop tune, but embedded in such piles of gluey syrup that you canít quite whistle along. Though interesting, in a sense, it seems hardly the most elegant of wrappings things up, and the atmosphere established in the opener and maintained, only just, but still, throughout 'Zeros', quickly evaporates.
'Oblivio Agitatum' is a little surprising in its approach, and arguably there's too little challenging to offer any transgressive listening experience to most fans of experimental electronics, but it is elegantly executed and may just immerse you in some otherworldly mind state for itís half an hour runtime. If that sounds appealing enough, Oblivio Agitatum just might be for you. Me, Iím off to give Pink Flag another spin, then. ď12XU!Ē Sven Klippel