Album Review

Gerritt Wittmer – Vessel (Misanthropic Agenda, 2010)

Gerritt WittmerSide A (excerpt)

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Gerritt Wittmer is that crazy motherfucker who I saw play with Paul Knowles at the Black Pus / Sissy Spacek show. He also runs the incredible Misanthropic Agenda label. He’s made some insano harsh noise records and his performance with Knowles was intense to say the least, but his new album Vessel is an exercise in restraint & tension, with LOTS of silence.

I’ve read that the only sounds contained on this record are from Wittmer’s mouth. Digitally altered occasionally, but still everything is supposedly sourced from his voice & breathing. The A side starts out with some bumbling around, like you’re carrying a mic while looking through a dark attic for a flashlight. Then, nothing. Wait, no, there’s someone here. Hiding in the corner. Definitely, some creepy murderer is doing his best to control his breathing and it’s not working. You can totally hear him. WTF. Why is there someone hiding in your attic? FUCK. It’s pitch black, you can’t see a goddamn thing, and you have no way to defend yourself. So you do what’s only right & natural. You start making creepy mouth noises back at him.

Duck squawk? Duck squawk. Constipated straining? Constipated straining. Silent cat yowls? Silent cat yowls. This guy becomes your mirror. Everything you do, right back at you. Then you start goin CRAZY together. A fucking choir of anti-harmonic dying frogs, ghosts with porcupines in their throats, demonic tea kettles, rewound mouse farts. If anybody walked in on you right now they’d shit their pants in terror and call an exorcist.

The B side is a bit more subdued, but also a bit shorter. No cacophony, no release & eruption from silent tension. It’s ALL tension. Waiting, uncertainty, disgusting sloppy slurps and punctured dog lungs. The long voids of nothing seem interminable, the only clue that time is passing is the vinyl crackle. If you focus all of your attention, the abyss becomes an actual thing, an entity all its own. Pulsing, breathing, but still motionless.

Wittmer is doing some crazy shit on Vessel. I’m not sure if he’s experimenting, or if he’s using this cathartically, or just further refining his obviously fine/performance sound art. Whatever he’s doing, it works. It feels like you’re holding your breathe the entire length the record. Muscle ache is an immediate & inevitable byproduct of listening to it. Maybe pop some pain killers beforehand.

Album Review

Dan Crall – Non Formula Equinox (self released, 2010)

Dan Crall – The Incredible Blue

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Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this one. The fact that it’s fucking AWESOME? Or maybe that it’s ridiculously non-musical? Or that Dan Crall is just a regular dude, without a “band website” or anything like that. He runs a pedicab business. That’s his website. No Myspace, no Bandcamp. He’s got a little Last.FM bio and an outdated photo album on the Install site. That’s it. He’s just a totally normal fucking dude. He just happens to make crazy ass field recording records like Non Formula Equinox.

This is primarily made up of field recordings, with little droney aspects & straight up music peppered throughout. I love this because it’s how I imagine I would make field recordings. 90% of what Crall records are sounds you hear every day (or would if you lived in Oregon). Squeaky tools, leaky hoses, kids screaming at carnivals, hammering & hollering, roaring fires, galloping horses, radio splatter, carousels, factory machines, barn house husbandry, and lots of people. Dusty voices talking about everything from the spiritual & physical cleansing of sweat lodges to depressing monologues about the economy & loneliness. Some of the sounds are warped, twisted, & beaten into an unrecognizable pulp, but a lot of them remain unaltered. No digital processing, just straight up sounds the way they’d be heard in the wild, taken totally out of context and jumbled up in Crall’s brilliant sequencing. They may be entirely non-musical elsewhere, but compiled & put on a platter for you on Equinox, you’re able to hear the world the way Dan Crall does.

There is music on this record though, just not a hell of a lot of it, and most of it is hidden among the field recordings. Some didgeridoo weirdness, rewound mandolin, deep resonant cellos, murky underwater drones. These are the starting off points for those having a difficult time getting into this record. You can focus on the more familiar musical facets, while experiencing the surrounding bizarreness and easing yourself into the stripped down sounds like on “The Ballad Of Eugene Boyd.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a record that took advantage of all available 80 minutes. Non Formula Equinox is 1 hour and 18 minutes, which is one long fucking record when it doesn’t have much music on it. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to listen to, but it’s SO goddamn rewarding when you actually get through it and have the epiphany. The realization that all of the source material is primarily background noise in the real world. If you put this record on and don’t give it 100% of your attention, your brain will automatically block it out just like it does with the rest of the shit you hear all day long. Just because it’s made of the everyday ambient audio, doesn’t mean you should treat it as such. You need to try extra hard with this one.

The real enjoyment of this record comes from following Crall on his journey & exploration of the isolated Western United States. You’ll hear strange stories and even stranger sounds, mostly bleak & dreary, but totally fucking fascinating. And if you get bored (and shame on you if you do), you can play the guessing game, what the sources of the sounds are, which of them are pure, which have been altered, are there any instruments playing right now? How much layering did he do or is this all actually happening simultaneously? However you listen to it, though, just make sure you actually listen. Fucking CHECK THIS OUT. You’ll be a better person for it.