Today, finally, we have hot water and heating back here after the plumber finally remembered what he gets paid for. For those that have been following the saga of my immersion tank I am pleased to say that everything is fixed, and if you continue to come to these pages from now on you will have to read about experimental music I’m afraid. Until something else goes wrong at least. Tonight I have been listening to a CD on the Contour Editions label by Ben Owen and Alfredo Costa Monteiro that I think actually came out a year ago, but I only recently obtained a copy, and as I haven’t seen all that much written about the album, and because it is still available a late review is probably still worth writing.
The album, named Frêle à Vide is a pretty tough listen. For its creation, Costa Monteiro utilises walkman feedback and shortwave radio, while Owen uses a microphone, mixer, tone arm and another radio. Between them, across the four tracks they produce a generally quite uncompromising set of quite brutal drones. The first untitled piece opens with five or six seconds of silence followed by a pressurised constant drone made up of layers of frequently fluctuating feedback-esque sound that lasts for some nine minutes or so before, after a further silence another, higher pitched, actually quite uncomfortable drone appears, again remaining firmly constant but with various elements coming and going, textures altering, density thickening and thinning as different elements are brought in. The sounds are mostly quite insistent and tend to drive their way deep into your head while listening, but I found that using headphones revealed much more that seemed to get washed away when played into the air. The subtleties in the drones were more apparent when heard up close without external distractions in this way. The hiss of white noise became clearer when heard against the heavier feedback tones, the changes in frequency and the slight fluctuations in the more oppressive elements became clearer to pick up on, making for a far more interesting listen.
The first three tracks each follow a similar course, although different intensities and volumes come and go. The third piece here, clocking in at thirteen minutes has a strange acoustic quality to it, as if somehow throttled and compressed down, so everything is there if you listen hard enough, but all pushed into a tight space so that the music feels intensely claustrophobic and as it if is about to explode. Its really quite original work. Drones are of course ten a penny, but Frêle à Vide has a peculiar feel to it. Even in the much quieter, brooding fourth and final piece here the emptiness that at first appears to be silence is in fact full of detail when heard up close. The album is a real pressure cooker of sounds. Everything feels like it has been laminated firmly together so that various elements impact on one another and yet are all packed so close together that casual listening will only register the one plane of sound, and it takes careful attention to peel apart the details.
I’m not usually a big fan of drones, and even less so of noisy, somewhat uncomfortable drones like those heard here, but somehow, the amount of subtle detail and just below the surface variation to be found in Frêle à Vide is thoroughly engaging and worth the effort required to listen past the ugly accumulated surface layer. A fascinating, if occasionally difficult listen then, and really original to boot.