When I was around nine or ten years old, I pulled the power chord from the back of my trusty radio cassette player one evening only to feel plastic casing at the end of the lead fall apart in my hands and who knows how many volts shoot up my arm for a second. Once I had gotten over the shock (quite literally) I remember at first feeling relieved that it was just the lead that had broken (I had a spare) but then also I remember the sound that was very briefly heard in the moment, a kind of sudden, forceful thud but with a snarling, sharp edge to it. Then there was a smell of burning and I remember looking to check it wasn’t me.
Over the next three decades I have gradually grown to trust household electronics again, but music made with purely open electronics always makes me wince slightly remembering that incident and wondering why the musicians don’t get electric shocks. Forage, Peter Blamey’s new twenty-one minute long CDr on the Australia-based Avant Whatever label is certainly an album that leaves me with these thoughts, but strangely, the sounds he makes here using open electronics have a really very raw, feral feel to them that from the second I pressed play on the CD brought that same sound I heard all those years ago back into my head. The disc contains two tracks, one seventeen and a half minutes long, the other a little over three. Throughout the disc’s brief run time however there is little changing in Blamey’s palette of sounds, but while the album isn’t loud or dynamically forceful as such, it bristles with a ferocity resonating from the sonic qualities of the sounds alone.
The music then is a kind of constant, muscularly twisting and turning stream of frazzled shrieks and buzzes. While the music is constantly shifting and changing the rough area of sound remains constant throughout both tracks (In fact spotting the join between them is not easy). Its a tough listen, possibly because the somehow quite inhuman set of sounds is so far away from that of a traditional instrument that the musical language at work here is difficult to connect with. I am reminded of John Wall’s most recent improvisation, which has ditched all trace of the acoustic qualities his music once had when he took sampled acoustic instruments as his source material and now sounds completely digital and inhuman. Blamey here is working with electricity, cutting and completing circuits by twisting wires about, and the same feeling occurs- making music using non-musical raw materials, so what we hear on Forage is in some ways entirely musical, a stream of undulating narrative, but the sounds themselves feel displaced from somewhere else, perhaps only to myself maybe, but this feels like music in a different language. For the most part, we just hear one sound at a time, and the visual image I have of the music is of a single pencil on paper scribbling a single line, thicker in some places than others, gouging deep into the paper at times. On a few occasions though an undercurrent of fizzing appears behind the surface scrawl, and these moments work the best for me, the way the two sounds react to one another, in my head at least, makes for a more interesting listen.
Hard to say then whether I like Forage a lot or not. Its a tough listen and demands a lot of the listener. Its miles from beautiful in a simple, traditional sense, and the narrow palette is not the friendliest, but there is no doubting the singularity of vision and sense of purpose at work here. Its available as a physical disc or also as a reasonably priced lossless download, which can be found via the label link at the top of this review.