Various Artists - Viva Negativa! A Tribute to the New Blockaders Vol [Important Records - 2010]
As mighty a noise group as the New Blockaders are, admittedly I never expected to see as massive a tribute to their works as "Viva Negativa!", the third volume of which, two disks on its own, I am examining in this review. It is devoted exclusively to artists from the USA, whereas Vol. I covers artists from the UK, Vol. II covers Europe at large, and Vol. IV features artists from Japan. The lineup is almost entirely made up of influential, seasoned artists who work I find to wildly inventive, endlessly fascinating and strangely beautiful. The tracks here are original compositions inspired by TNB, rather than remixes or reinterpretations as found on some Merzbow tributes, and each undeniably showcases a unique and idiosynchratic conception what it means to create 'noise'.
The first CD kicks off with a granulated slab of texture from the always mystifying Z'EV, entitled "Chips Off the New Block". Like other Z'EV tracks, the structure is loose to the point of sounding accidental. This glittering stream of digital data ebbs and flows, interrupted by skipping sounds and metallic whitewash similar to the sound of a firehose or pressure washer. It's more active than a lot of his music, and at least in my case, more enjoyable.
Keith Fullerton Whitman of Hrvatski eases up on the glitches and engages in what you could call 'new music' composition, layering recordings of objects skittering, scraping and sliding across floors, and into each other. The closed-in soundspace and short verb times give this track 'basement' vibe. The track waxes zen in its second half, as metallic gongs begin to ring out periodically. Whitman's style is refreshingly psychedelic and unpretentious for this genre.
Alan Courtis' "Happy Blockaders Time" is a massive, bass-heavy slab that unfolds with a wise, tectonic patience, passing logically between differing levels of claustrophobia.
Controlled Bleeding pays tribute not only to TNB but to different eras of their own past with "The Latest Hole In My Head", a 10 minute beast that begins as a sequenced flight of synth fancy as per Tangerine Dream, and after a few minutes breaks nastily into absolutely brutal harsh noise, as thick and punishing as anything on "Pulse Demon".
Plethora's "Last Night I Dremt Of Anti-Fest... This Morning I Woke Up Deaf" is conceptual brilliance, imitating the manner in which a quiet morning is typically peppered with short flashes of vivid mental imagery and sound recollections, dimmed from their original sources. These short fragments (which break the sound of tinnitus ringing) are but disconnected, contextless moments, and afterall, it is these brief moments which we recall when we think of noise, as the memory is imperfect and cannot recall an unbroken stream of arrhythmic audio in its entirety.
There is a sense that all of the artists found on this compilation are challenging themselves to explore new realms, and perhaps the best example of this is Macronympha's uncharacteristically quiet "Riding Down Lost Highway". Percussion resounds dimly in the back, as if underwater, before synth tones and gentle, filtered overwhelm the soundscape. It's like hearing a hurricane wind from inside an underground shelter - the sound is muted, but retains its fierceness and power.
The Haters' track, "Mantra to Rot", is a smooth mix of HNW and drone. A round, low-mid range tone is surrounded by a cloud of distorted mirror images and delays and a pure, canyon-esque resonance. This group's output is usually much louder as well, but this track is quite imposing and full despite diminished harshness.
If you do need it loud, rest assured, as good old-fashioned smoldering, bass heavy harsh noise is provided here by Emil Beaulieau, Lockweld (who contributes the aptly titled "Catharsis Bomb"), and Richard Ramirez.
"Les Heros De La Barricade Finale" by Idea Fire Company is not noise at all but classic surrealist music, featuring the sickly, detuned moaning of a pair of ghostly sopranos over rain sounds and the creaking of a distant crank. Terrifically eerie.
The always cryptic Blue Sabbath Black Cheer have a 7 minute, untitled track on this compilation, which is among the most fascinating to be found here. Though it initially appears to be simple harsh noise, there is a mesmerizing ritual quality to this sound, as well as countless layers of subtle and demonic ambient depths. It's like peering through a watery surface into a vaguely visible oneiric dimension.
There are so many tracks that I cannot discuss them all here. I can say that Daniel Menche, Jim O'Rourke, Prurient, Wolf Eyes, John Wiese and Mnortham all come through with visionary creativity and unshakeable determination, the balance between analog and digital noise is perfect, and not a single track is weak.
The crisp, consistent and dynamic mastering is an impressive feat in itself considering the variety of textures, energy levels and approaches on this compilation. From full on assaults to sparse musique concret, all is listenable without touching the volume knob.
The insert is a beautiful, brightly colored booklet containing many pages of modernist collage art intermingled with clippings about TNB and their political motivations. It's a magnificent balance between dreamlike surrealist imagery similar to Steven Stapleton's covers for the Nurse With Wound albums (and therefore Salvador Dali) and a stark, greyscale urban realism.
These artists have come together and once and for all asserted the validity of noise music. A monumental gold mine of creativity, one of the greatest and most varied noise compilations ever releasedJosh Landry