Release DetailsLABEL Hydra Head
RELEASED ON 3/20/2007
posted on 6/2007 By:
Halfway through penning my first draft for this ambient/noise album, I realized that I’m a writer (stop laughing) for Metal Review dot com and not for the Avant-Gardener or some other mythical xeroxed zine that caters to people like me: full blown, card carrying experimental “out music” nuts (That card and five bucks will snag you a SWAP.avi bootleg). So, I’ve got say that I was tad bit tempted to trot out the ol’ “Not metal! Avoid! Avoid!” song and dance, knowing that this review would be pulled under the waves in no time by the apathy shark. But, here’s the thing: Instead of coming to the conclusion that few would have the patience to endure this album, I think it’s the opposite. If you haven’t spent much time immersed in the wild world of bleeps n’ bloops, static scratches n’ strident screeches, I think there's something about Drawing Voices that you'll find appealing. Yeah, I said it.
But, and I’m in full gangsta crotch-grabbing mode here, don’t get it twisted. Drawing Voices falls into a lot of the same traps (specifically two big ‘uns) that have probably been keeping you away from arty concept albums for years. Trap number one: Craig Dongoski’s Hydra Head debut is more interesting to talk about than to actually listen to. That’s not a knock against the quality contained within, but the fact remains that the concept is far more intriguing than what’s a-flowing out of the speakers. Joined by HH boss and Isis frontman Aaron Turner, Drawing Voices warps the field recordings of people writing, drawing, etc. into glitchy layers of Fennesz-esque soundscapes that, at times, take on the rich analog textures of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s recent work.
Stars of the Lid traveled down a similar road with their collaboration with painter Jon McCafferty, but even though they recorded the man creating, they never focused purely on the sound of brush on canvas. That’s what sets Drawing Voices apart: Dongoski is obsessed with capturing the sound of the moment, not the sounds that surround the moment when art hits the page. As you’d expect, various scraping noises are heard, like the satisfying scratch of pencil lead panned from side to side. But Dongoski doesn’t reach far enough with his backing tracks, sounding too much like the suddenly untrendy minimalist noise that has been collected for Mille Plateaux’s Clicks & Cuts series. So, the big problem is that the resulting music doesn’t sound as fresh as the novel concept would suggest.
It’s not all a wash though, as the tracks are put together well. “Scattered Shavings”’s tweaked graphite squeaks skitter across some alien terrain before the cold wind of Turner’s guitar-based blurry drone blows everything away. Turner picks up the six string again for an acoustic improvisation on “The Shrine Of Wreckless Illumination” that’s not too far away from his work with Lotus Eaters (the noise that pops up later reminds me of the speedbump segues that appear on your average Old Man Gloom album). At ten minutes though, the song is a bit tedious, especially since nothing truly revelatory happens. So, naturally, you’re left questioning what it has to do with the basic concept. Is Turner’s improvisation supposed to match the unvarnished reality of the non-Hollywood (read: unglamorous, “real life”) creative process? Dongoski never makes that clear because he doesn't dig deep enough into what the sound of all these mark making instruments could mean. He never gives us a true link between the two (sometimes three, I guess) areas of art he's combining besides the sound of creating one could become the other (which, humorously, puts that “…dancing about architecture” quote into a new light).
And, that’s a great example of trap number two, the second thing that keeps most people away from these types of recordings: Drawing Voices is coming from an art world where everything is supposed to mean something. Is it a bit on the pretentious side? Yes, yes it is. Will you feel pretentious arguing either its merits as music or the veiled intricacies of its concept? Yes, yes you will. But, it’s inevitable; you’re going to talk about this stuff because the music isn’t strong enough to separate itself from such discussions, to truly stand on its own as an interesting and evocative piece. I’ve got to realize though, that’s me speaking as the full blown, card carrying experimental “out music” nut that has been down this road (too) many times.
So, if you want to get into this minimalist noise/ambient game, here’s a higher profile release that’s not a bad place to start. It's not an easy listen, but it's not that hard either. Pick it up and see if it works for you.
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