Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Moss - Cthonic Rites

I

From Branden W. Joseph's excellent "Beyond the Dream Syndicate. Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage":

"For Walter Benjamin, who theorized an 'optical unconscious' in relation to photography and film, the camera's ability to capture spaces and events not 'informed by human consciousness,' particularly through its capacity for enlargement (as in a microscope) or slow motion, was a means of revealing previously unseen possibilities for comprehension, interpretation, and action:

Photography reveals in this material [enlarged "details of structure, cellular tissue," and the like] physiognomic aspects, image worlds, which dwell in the smallest things - meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which, enlarged, make the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable.

On the other hand, film furthers insight into the necessities governing our lives by its use of close-ups, by its accentuation of hidden detail in familiar objects, and by its exploration of commonplace milieux through the ingenious guidance of the camera; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of a vast and unsuspected field of action (Spielraum)."

John Cage understood the dronework of La Monte Young as something like Walter Benjamin's 'acoustical unconscious': "Listening to these pieces has been for me an experience that has changed my way of hearing, of hearing everything. It is like when one sees something through a microscope: afterward, one sees differently, even without a microscope. With Young's music, you can say that you hear in the interior of the sound, in the interior of the action. (..) At that moment, listening reverts to placing a particular object under a microscope so that the object becomes an entire universe, simply because it is enlarged to that extent. It ceases to be an object."



II

Microscopic music: more contemporary examples are found in Electronica, especially in the 1990's microgenre 'Clicks and Cuts'. The genre zoomed in on sonic detritus, magnified aural decay, enlarged pops, hisses, whirrs, glitches, clicks, scratches, noise until they formed a 'vast and unsuspected' soundscape. The unintended, indeterminate, near-aleatory nature of the sounds used ensure that these soundscapes are 'not informed by human consciousness'. The work of Thomas Köner is a case in point: his music evokes arctic panoramas by blowing up "...stuttering mechanical sounds (imagine the sound of film that has been rewound but hasn't been shut off, the trail of film flapping against the canister)..." (here).

But in a sense, using electronica to magnify sound is facile: computer engineering expedites closing up to the sound. To magnify sound events without the aid of software like Reaktor, Ableton Live, Super Collider and MAX/MSP is much more challenging.

Nevertheless, UK Doom Metal band Moss' manages to coax hidden detail from from its hiding place in waking nightmares on their classic 2005 album Cthonic Rites, released on the excellent Aurora Borealis record label both on cd and magnificent triple vinyl.

Imagine Marduk's 1999 Black Metal album Panzer Division Marduk slowed down so much that the breakneck speed blast beat drums become immense, cyclopean structures; slowed down such much that the headlong rush of tremolo is transfigured into a large, slow-crawling glacier of noise, formed from compacted layers of distortion. For the listener, Moss makes it possible to explore the crevasses, moraines, striations, eskers, ridges, chatter marks, drumlins and cracks in the familiar sound of Black Metal.

Moss' slowing-down of Black Metal reveals a vertiginous musical underworld, where the dimensional relationships are askew, where the proportions are wrong. This should come as no surprise, as the work of HP Lovecraft is a major inspiration for Moss: disproportionality of scales is a constant theme in that horror writer's work. In his 1991 essay "H.P. Lovecraft. Contre le monde, contre la vie", Michel Houellebecq describes the work of the Providence recluse as "...a vertiginous literature; and there is no vertigo without a certain disproportionality of scales, without a certain juxtaposition of the minuscule and the unlimited, the specific and the infinite."

In Moss' Doom Metal, one can discover a warped, nightmarish and barren world.


Post scriptum

Here and here are links to recent interviews with Moss. Here and here and here are links to older interviews.

3 comments:

wwinfrey said...

Another great post. Much like your post connecting Earth to dub (a connection I made immediately as well after seeing them live last year), this post connecting Moss to "micro-" music is an astute observation. That said, I've got a couple, barely related thoughts concerning this post, please bare with me...

I think Cthonic Rites cannot be truly appreciated until it is heard on vinyl. Moss' nom de guerre implies, at least a little, decay as the result of repeated exposure to the elements (where do we usually find moss, at least in the sense that Moss want us to see? Personally, I see old stone buildings. Moss cannot grow on smooth stone, it needs crevices and gutters formed from extended exposure). Over repeated listenings, as the grooves are broken down more and more, the music on the vinyl itself degrades and this can only enhace the desired effect. The old phrase uttered by vinyl junkies, "not complete without surface noise", comes to mind.

One thing that this album truly excels at is the notion of "black metal as ritual music". There's a lot of black metallers out there that go out of their way to create said music, but much of the time it just comes off as really naieve ambient music with some minor pad progressions. It might be heresy to say so, but I'll single out Varg's prison recordings here, especially Dauði baldrs.

Finally, I have to disagree with you at least on one small, trivial point:

"To magnify sound events without the aid of software like Reaktor, Ableton Live, Super Collider and MAX/MSP is much more challenging."

As a user of all these applications, I would say that it's anything but easy to magnify sound events with SuperCollider & Max/MSP. With Reaktor -- sure, one has access to a wide variety of pre-made sound mangling tools in the Reaktor user library, and Live is explicitly built for the purpose of on-the-fly sound modification. With SC and Max/MSP though, you're essentially constructing eveything yourself from the ground up, molecule-by-molecule as it were, to not only get these types of effects, but also to maintain any sort of cohesive control. You can't just throw in a granular object and feed it a soundfile and expect anything meaningful to come out of it. The best SC and Max patches are the result of weeks, if not months, of painstaking work.

One could make an argument in the opposite direction -- with the right combo of pedal effects and tube amplification, one is able to arrive at distorted landscapes much easier than with software. Of course, it's not just about distortion, it's about controlling and shaping that distortion into something cohesive, even if the goal is an abstraction of madness. I think it's obvious that Cthonic Rites is a result of careful construction and an abundance of control.

Finally, I have found that Phil Hine's "Pseudonomicon", which introduces the Mythos as a basis for chaos magick, is a very complimentary read when exposting one's self to Cthonic Rites over repeated listenings, perhaps not read WHILE listening to it, but in between listenings as the music sinks in.

(Disclaimer: I work for the makers of Max/MSP, so my opinion here is somewhat colored)

valter said...

Thanks for this extremely interesting comment!

The next post on my blog is about Moss' most recent album, Sub Templum. It addresses the tension between control and chaos, which I think is a thread running through the diverse issues your comment deals with.

I haven't read anything occult for a long, long time (other than anthropological studies) but I'll check out Phil Hine on the 'net.

Kokkaljós said...

I came here looking for a download for Cthonic Rites as I only own the record on vinyl, and instead I found this beautiful document of that record. I'm not very well versed with the fine arts, so all I can say is that your blog makes for some fine reading.