Where Is This/fire island AK - Split [Bored Bear Recordings/BTNR - 2010]This transatlantic collaboration is presented on a limited edition tape, and it’s presented without title or track titles. This serves as a noticeable contrast to the colourful imagery of the artwork: a tied up bear with a enormous penis on the front, and an insert decorated with chat-line adverts. Four tracks of ugly noise are spread across the cassette; one long piece and three shorter ones.
The first track, “A1”, starts with a nice section of antiquated, rusty-sounding noise; with an ascending, whistling shriek pulling the piece along. After this really very measured start, the track becomes a blasting drone. In the simplest sense, it does “drone”; but it’s full of such pulsing, kinetic energy that “drone” seems an inappropriate description - there’s relentless movement and propulsion. Its not simply a side-long blast of noise, there’s a definite quality of tension too: a sense of hovering, a sense of burning. There’s not a lot of detail to the sounds - near the end, the ear can possibly discern a heavily distorted and buried military drum roll; but on the whole, its a track made out of large gestures, not subtlety.
The second side of the tape has the three shorter tracks, which display a wider palette of tones, sounds and atmospheres than the first side. The first starts with a grainy, percussive, rattling sound before igniting into further swathes of saturation. After building to a wall of noise, this sound returns, only to be nicely slurred into a bassy nothing. The second of the tracks has some pleasantly resonant, grinding feedback; and the last resembles a rough train ride through some spitting static. Throughout the second side of the tape, there is often a noticeable stereo split - quite possibly an indication of the process and method used by the artists in their collaboration. (It’s not so obviously noticeable on the first side, but that might be due to the more uniform sound of the track; as compared to the more colourful second side.)
Whilst the general tone of the tape is harsh, it doesn’t feel like a determined battering - it’s not a one-dimensional assault. Neither is it a dry, clinical piece of sound-scaping; trading detail and technique for energy. This collaboration falls somewhere in-between; using a harsh palette of sounds, but not presenting them in such a way that the only interpretation available to the listener is one of an aggressive act. So, whilst it does admittedly lean heavily towards the noisy side of the equation, there’s space for the sounds to play off one another - particularly in the three shorter tracks; and where this space is reduced (on the first side, for example), the effect is quite solid and monolithic. Martin P