Peter J. Woods - A Waste of Red Meat [Flag Day Recordings - 2021]
Donna Haraway’s classic essay of 1985, The Cyborg Manifesto, declared that ‘we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism – in short, cyborgs’. Haraway wasn’t talking here about a race of Terminator-esque figures, but about the ways in which we are all carefully maintained ‘machines’, reliant on complex networks of food, medical, and self-fashioning technologies.
In A Waste of Red Meat, Woods explores this entanglement of man and machine by presenting a ‘posthuman self-portrait’ of himself as an artist. The body of the artist and the technologies and tools it engages with are deconstructed and reassembled over the course of seven Parts, each separated by a spoken-word interlude.
It is a disconcerting listening experience, both familiar and unfamiliar. Sinister rumbling fades in and out, at times seeming to come hurtling towards the listener. Water drips into pans, conjuring up images of the bowels of an abandoned factory. Disembodied fragments of radio or television adverts breakthrough like lost transmissions. Sounds appear that blur the line between human, animal, and machine: a laughing screeching, an insect-like drone. In some tracks the machine is a creature to be tended to: the sounds of work, cleaning, and maintenance in Part 2.2 are accompanied by a low growling suggestive of an underlying threat. Some spoken word interludes are intrusively, queasily, corporeal: Woods delivers his lines whilst eating, gargling through water, or with a mouthful of metal.
Bass-heavy distortion and driving machinic whines lend some tracks a HNW quality; elsewhere, there are short sharp bursts of power electronics-style assault. Often, these tracks end abruptly, cutting the listener adrift. Other tracks are more clearly structured, with rhythmic sawing, squeaking, and turning of gears building to what feels like breaking point.
The entity that is being created out of this process of fragmentation and deconstruction seems to come together from Part 5 onwards, where the noise of a crowd melds with industrial clangs to become part of the same ambient background. Irregular metallic sounds suggest human actions performed with industrialized bodies. Alarms sound. By Part 7 the machinic takeover of the body seems inevitable – there is a confidence and determinedness to the sound here that has a doom-laden quality. Yet, as the final spoken word section and Epilogue play out, the cyclical process of undoing and becoming continues: the speech of Woods’s cyborg begins to glitch and break down.
Haraway saw the potential for ‘pleasure in the confusion of boundaries’. If A Waste of Red Meat sometimes frustrates the listener with its too-brief snatches of comforting rumbling or abrasive noise and its mixture of dissonant sounds, this is what, ironically, holds the whole together. The themes of entanglement between humans and technology, and the fragmented nature of the self, will resonate with many in 2021 after a year of close engagement with both medical and digital technologies. And, whether or not you embrace these more theoretical elements of the album, A Waste of Red Meat is a challenging, somewhat uncanny, album that invites repeated listens to further reveal its meaning.Jennifer Wallis