I should start this review by saying that I actually heard this music for the first time maybe five years ago, around the time that my then-radio presenter colleague Alastair Wilson wrote the liner notes for its supposed release, in his own inimitable style. What’s more, I really didn’t like it at all back then. It was one of several albums at the time that contained Mark Wastell’s tam tam sound, and there were other, better releases out there that used the recordings in a manner I preferred. Listening again now, as the recording has finally found a home on the Monotype label i certainly don’t have quite the same adverse reaction to it as I did back then, though its still not entirely my cup of tea.
The recording has quite a story behind it. Back in 2004, Mark Wastell was meant to travel to Paris to play a gig, but after confusion over train tickets, he didn’t go, and as his weekend was free, and he had hired a tam tam for the event, he went instead to Norfolk, and Graham Halliwell’s house, where Graham recorded Mark playing the instrument in various ways. These recordings have made their way onto a number of CDs since. Not long after, Wastell sent them on to Lasse Marhaug, the popular Norwegian noise/drone musician, who treated, processed, arranged and added to the recordings to make a complete new composition that made its way around several potential labels before eventually arriving at Monotype five years later. Oh and somewhere on the line the duo chose the (somewhat dreadful!) title Kiss of Acid as well.
The music is one long composition that is somewhat episodic, a collection of different sections pinned together either by slow fades or sudden cuts. Wastell’s tam tam is present for most of the time, but often it is fed through a virtual blender that renders it unrecogniseable. When it is left unadorned, as it is from time to time, the tam tam shifts between the rolling sheets of warm metallic sound we are familiar with from many of his other releases, and sparse, empty strikes left to decay into space. Marhaug doesn’t often allow silence into the recording, though it should also be noted that this isn’t a noise record, and while often we are presented with some hefty sheets of sound they are not deafeningly loud and never disappear into white noise territory.
What I disliked about the recording five years ago, and am still not so struck on now, is the artificial feel that many of the sounds here that are not just clean tam tam recordings have. There are several areas where loops are used, either as a deliberate pulsing tool as near the start of the album, or elsewhere were a sample might be looped and layered to create a drone. I like to listen to music very carefully, and quite often a droning sound here will reveal repeated elements that cause me to lose interest until the section ends and another begins. In some ways it maybe all just feels a little simplistic. Once the decision had been made to treat and sample and compose something new from Wastell’s sounds I feel like perhaps more could have been done than the segmented structure and looping samples that make up much of the composition. On the other hand, the beauty of the original recordings also lead me to think that something even simpler, a basic collage made of the clean recordings might have worked better again. Either way, what we have just feels somehow unsatisfactory.
There is a very nice little moment roughly seven minutes in, when the music has slipped into near silence and a strange little warped melody appears for a short while, a bit like a murky recording of an old piece of vinyl or something similar. It is soon subsumed by the rich glow of Wastell’s tam tam, but this part works well, as the sample, (or whatever it is) sounds different enough, separate enough to everything else but still works well alongside the instrumental sound.
Still, while Kiss of Acid might not be perfect its been a while since we heard anything from Mark Wastell, and this is also the first disc by Lasse Marhaug that I have really been able to enjoy at any level (I admittedly haven’t heard very much of his gigantic catalogue) so its a welcome release, and a disc that I suspect will be greeted by a lot more praise than I have been able to cast upon it.