“I SAID, DO YOU LIKE NOISE!”
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS RACKET!”
“BUT DO YOU LIKE IT?”
The title Convulsive Threshold seems to refer to the aural version of the strobes that lead to seizures. If sound were to possess the same power (and reports of whales who stun their prey into submission indicates that it does), this album would be its vessel. The word “extreme” doesn’t even do it justice; this is an all-out assault on auditory canals. Listeners should not anticipate dynamic contrast; it’s all red, all the time. The feedback tones are always in motion, unable to rest for even a fraction of a second.
Russell Haswell & Yasunao Tone have been pushing the limits of analogue and digital equipment for decades. Their collaboration investigates the far reaches of sonic space, where the intentions of melody and harmony are so foreign that they reappear unbidden. Patterns can be intuited even in the most random of textures. What sounds at first like the product of knobs being turned to the right and levers to the north begins to coalesce on the third or fourth listen, when it starts to sound more like the work of demented geniuses. Even the track titles are reversed, as “Convulsive Threshold #2” is followed by “Convulsive Threshold #1”. It’s all part of the same extended experiment.
The best way to listen to this album is on a home stereo. The well-designed stereo effects are a crucial element, and the necessary volume is likely to damage the eardrums of those listening on headsets. The electronics arrive in stutters and bursts through machine gun rolls and steam valve explosions. It’s the sonic equivalent of all-out warfare. And in a way, it is warfare, a battle between mind and machine for compositional supremacy. Should software programs be given any credit for “writing” music if it proceeds beyond an artist’s vision? At what point would one call it artificial intelligence? Does a machine sense that it has limitations, and have a residual way to adapt? If Haswell and Tone lack answers, at least they’re asking the right questions. (Richard Allen)