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Michael Begg | Human Greed - Dirt on Earth: a pocket of resistance [Omnempathy - 2012]

Dirt on Earth seems to have emerged out of Michael Begg’s most creative period yet: along with being one of the key players on Fovea Hex’ debut album, This is Where We Used to Sing, last year also saw the release of Human Greed’s most ambitious and elaborate album, Fortress Longing, filled with guest musicians and narrators to help paint a weighty concept concerning the liberation of a museum’s mummified remains to the desert. And no less than five months later there was a further download-only release, Live Dark Arts at the Classic, that saw Begg return to solo symphonies of electronics, choice selections of which appear on this new release.

As if to deliberately contrast this work with Fortress Longing’s expansive opus, the most minimal of press releases accompanies Dirt on Earth to firmly state “No Words, No guests”. However, there is a clue as to what may have inspired Begg this time around in the form of a quote from art critic John Berger which acknowledges that while we may feel like we resist consumerism’s lies, this is barely reflected in the media. Indeed, later in the chapter from which the quote is taken he cites Spanish artist Miquel Barceló’s paintings as a rare example of art that is “listening to the revolt”. Perhaps, through Dirt on Earth – significantly subititled ‘a pocket of resistance’ – Begg is imagining what the natural world sounds like as it rejects the way it has been depicted and commodified.

The overall sound is a kind of distillation of Human Greed’s output thus far, pared back to reveal a core of resolute sadness gilded by a suppressed, academic anger: muted embers of bowed instrumentation extend upward like disturbed sediments in a murky, slow flowing river, sensitively lit by long lamenting arcs of shining, glassy tones. Once again, on pieces like ‘A Child Is A Cup’, nursery-rhyme-like phrases suitably rendered by innocent chimes of a xylophone bring suggestions of childhood into the complex, melancholic adult netherworld and in doing so emphasises the guilty pain in the atmosphere, but also brings with it a small sense of hope, of triumph, like the ascending cinematic strings that close ‘Your Little Hand As Warm As Milk’.

With tidal timing far removed from the mathematical grid of the sequencer software that improbably holds Begg’s layers together, Dirt on Earth concludes with a twenty-minute séance in sound. Layers of suspenseful chords bearing qualities of both bell-ringing and a church organ swell and cluster to form a monolithic presence only to be drowned by a deeply reverberating ritualistic howl. Replaced by a rumbling air eerily serrated by odd piano notes and breathy gasps the piece shifts stealthily and drifts dangerously until the monolith re-emerges as a wraithlike fanfare, rich in multi-textured layers, only to disappear once more into the ether.

If there is anger in Dirt on Earth’s elegant nightmare of drowning orchestrations and organic movements, it is not explicit. It’s bleak, bitter, often (but not always) cold, and all the while very much grounded in the natural world; and, what could be more natural than human greed? Now there’s something to get angry about.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Russell Cuzner
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