“Turntables and metals” is a unique descriptor. The turntables are the domain of Katsura Mouri, while the metals – struck, stroked, manipulated – belong to Tim Olive. These two sources played together sound wholly unique. As most turntables are made of metal, one may regard this as an album of hard surfaces, against which disparate elements grind and churn. Above this layer lies the unseen force of nature; the album was recorded during a thunderstorm, and the electrical crackles may have been the result of surges through overloaded wires. The listener imagines strange scenarios: magnetized discharges animating iron filaments, mercury droplets falling on aluminum sheets.
The protests of technology – forks in outlets, metal in microwaves, ignition switches turned when cars are already on – become music in the hands of Mauri and Olive. Aural ugliness is tampered with and subsequently tamed. One imagines the masking tape on the records, which forces the needle to repeat the groove. The unwanted skip has become the desired sound. This transference of desire lends the album a rebellious appeal. Once listeners learn to like the warps and wails they have been conditioned to avoid, the definition of noise begins to contract. If a rattling gutter or perforated muffler can attract, rather than repel, little is left to aggravate the ear. In this light, Various Histories may be viewed as not only a musical work, but as a training exercise.
The absence of track titles implies that the album is meant to be considered as a whole. Since there are no hit singles here, the listener is free to wander among the sounds. The first track imitates the timbres of rolling dice, cracking branches and radio tunings; mid-piece, a foghorn loop develops like an errant bass. The second sounds like tea kettles, humming and hail. The brief third is sandpaper and bristle, the fourth an exploration of eruption and response. The mind imposes structure on these pieces despite the lack of listed sources; the latter track seems to include a dragged rake, a repeatedly loaded shotgun and an exploding boiler, although none of these were likely present in the studio.
The concluding quarter-hour track is a wild animal that only pretends to be domesticated. A bass twang lends structure to the opening segment, while a synthesized siren implies a less benign force. Then the cage doors open. Strange skitters abound. In the shadows, a sudden movement catches the ear. What was that? Any further investigation may be a mistake. As the high end grows constant, it begins to sound like an alarm. At the end, nothing is resolved. The track falls into silence, save for the sound of a lone creature testing its chains. Then in the closing seconds, a swift synthesized rise, as if the animal has jumped. The duo’s final excursion is a demonstration of tensile strength, all the more welcome because it is all the more unexpected. (Richard Allen)