Billed as “an exploration of the techniques, methods and technologies used in post-war western avant-garde music and sound art,” this cassette from Bristol’s zoller is a punishing listen from start to finish.
This is not, however, a simple matter of noise for shock value. (Although there are one or two jolts, to be sure.) Alex Hill has written a virtual correspondence course for anyone interested in the history of difficult music. His syllabus includes four periods of avant-garde music, presented in an effort to remain true to each one’s original methods.
Over the course of the cassette, Hill performs on “prepared guitar, NIMB, feedback, tape loops, Ableton Live, found sound, graphic scores, rice, dice, random numbers, string, pebbles, guitar pedals, field recorder, tape machine, distortion, guitar & tape loops” according to his notes.
“Étude des Boucles et du Bruit” is a musique concrete piece. It is remarkable how innovative this style of composition remains, three-quarters of a century after its initial development. It is the perfect starting point for Hill’s retrospective.
Next is “Indeterminacy; Parts I, II & III,” based on the great John Cage. The first part is suitably reverent and delicately performed. Bauhaus fans will be reminded of that band’s more exuberant live performances of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
The first real shock comes at the opening of part two. Its hard intro contrasts sharply with its predecessor. The piece is densely commanding, with an ending no less surprising than its intro. Part three is more playful, but bangs just as hard.
“Excerpts from Studies of Outsiders” salutes Jean Debuffet and his passion for art made by artists with no formal training. It is joyfully rudimentary. Pablo Picasso used to talk about painting with the kind of abandon that children possess. This piece strikes a similar chord.
Finally, we get the cassette’s most modern, most challenging work: “Experiments with Volume.” This one is about the “harsh noise” of 1990s giants like Merzbow, Incapacitants and Hijokaidan. Hill does them justice.
Credit Hill for his respectful approach to each of these avant-garde movements. He’s produced an extraordinary, important recording.