Monday, January 17, 2011

Aaron Zarzutzki & Nick Hoffman - Psychophagi [Pilgrim Talk]

This is the first full length from this Chicago duo (a cassingle was released simultaneously.) Nick Hoffman is a very busy man, running the Pilgrim Talk, Ghost & Son and Scissor Death labels as well as recording solo as Katchmare. Hoffman's work in duos is often some his best such as in Veyou or Back Magic but his teaming up with Mr. Zarzutzki is certainly his strangest and probably finest to date.
What I like about Psychophagi is it pulls no punches. I don't mean that in the typical aggressive/violent manner, but that the sounds delivered are immediate, tactile and incredibly detailed. There is no added murk or misty blankets of effects here. Just pure (whatever that means) sound.
Zarzutzki's weapon of choice is a turntable appropriated as a grinding wheel of sorts. Hoffman's tool chest is kept a little vaguer as an assortment of electric and acoustic objects. The first piece, "(Grotesque 1)," which takes the entirety of the first side, begins with something resembling an oscillator but with a more organic timbre. Another sound which could potentially be a horn of some sort, though I doubt it, joins briefly. The aforementioned grinding 'oscillator' sound, which I am going to guess is Zarzutzki's turntable, is the focus as it weaves a range of sounds over a mild mechanical hum. A few pieces of metal clatter cut through with sharp clangs and the turntable appears to get switched off, dimming the piece momentarily into silence. Skittering percussive noises break the silence and something that sounds akin to a few people whistling acts as a counterpoint.
The material on this LP was culled from a live performance and it feels like it. There is a patience at work; the pieces move forward naturally as they may not have with editing or overdubs. The piece continues to crawl forward on strangled tones; there were definitely many objects under duress during the making of the record. It is kind of interesting to hear how these mostly "non-musical" objects end up capturing the sound of a drum roll or, as previously mentioned, a oscillator or whining trumpet, to see the relationship instruments and "non-instruments." That even though the sounds produced are relatively similar, the method of production drastically changes the dynamics and compositional nature of a piece of music. The first side culminates with a thicker palette of sound which builds somewhat like a crescendo before ending on a squeak and silence.
I might as well say this now before I write any further. This record is for people who love sound, not just "music," but the phenomena of sound. If you fit into that category than this record should be pleasure to listen to.
The second side begins slightly more aggressively with some loud cling-clang. A mild but persistent sine-wave feedback tone hangs around with a loop that manages to fit somewhere between melody and rhythm. This second track "(Grotesque 2)" is much more rhythmically inclined, disseminating strange little grooves throughout its duration. Insistent blares of bowed metal litter the piece as well, continuing to carry it forward in all its unsettling, prickly glory. Underneath the louder swells is a continuous hi-pitched tone, sounding like a violin section slowly dragging 500 ft bows across an open string. A new bassier tone joins up and the pair has a nice little duet. It's the strongest, most “stand alone” piece on the LP; it seems most confident in where it’s heading. "(Grotesque 3)" wraps the record up. At the outset it’s much more percussive until settling in with a quiet tone sounding halfway between a free sax solo and a Furby. From there, the record moves into one of my favorite passages which is nearly silent. A sine tone just this side of existence hangs in the ether and every so often a sharp percussive hit shatters the near-silence. It's hard to explain what exactly makes that section so arresting but after having the record demand so much attention, you are listening so hard that it is a tad surreal to feel like you are hearing silence. The rest of the piece brings in deep groans and plaintive, nearly melodic electro-acoustic drones ending on a relatively pleasant note.
This is a very elusive, enigmatic record. It will probably captivate some and be met with disinterest from others. I’m certainly in the former camp and I hope there's plenty more to come from this duo. It isn’t the most brilliant record I’ve heard but it's one that I still haven’t been able to put my finger on, and that quality will keep me listening for a long time.
The record is outfitted with killer artwork (as usual) by Nick Hoffman. It's a very nice package all together. It's still available, in an edition of 118, and at 12 bucks postpaid that's a darn good price for such high quality visuals and audio.

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