Nickolas Mohanna has operated in many fields, from drone to modern composition, but Phase Line is his wildest work to date. The album began as a sound installation, and includes the angular, manipulated output of “electronic billboards, kiosk stations and traffic control devices”. Without amplification or physical injury to their sources, these sounds often fade into a backdrop of urban noise. Mohanna’s gift is not only to extract them, but to help them to frolic, to run wild like Amish teens on a Rumspringa. Make no mistake – the artist is in charge every step of the way – but he keeps his sounds on an extremely long leash.
The first note of “Split X” is akin to an alarm clock. Don’t expect to sleep through this recording. The next few minutes are a wild rumpus. Taps and slaps, beeps and gongs percolate like sparks on an overloaded circuit board – which in fact they may be. And yet, these noises are playful, never intimidating, almost endearing in their untamed curiosity. Imagine for a moment that traffic lights and billboards yielded these sounds to the natural ear. Would we be amused or annoyed? After a few minutes, they seem to grow sluggish, lying down on the street as if it were a couch, having spent – if only for a moment – their initial hyperactive burst. After ten minutes, they appear to pass out. But when they awaken, they start to run all over again; one can hear their rapid static footsteps two-thirds of the way into the piece. And then ~ BOOM! It’s on again.
“Interstate” begins with the same shuffling electronic sound that ends “Split X,” establishing an immediate connection between tracks. But now there’s a machine gun pulse atop a popcorn base. Imagine a florescent light gone wild, and you’re halfway there. Perhaps a florescent light being eaten by gremlins. Purposely, yet ironically, the repeated beat that develops holds a mirror to the pulse of a city, especially a commercial area such as Times Square or Shibuya Crossing. This is us: our electronic devices no longer around us, but beside us, around us, in some cases even within us. A fascination with outer electronics has led to a desire to bring such artificial sounds closer. Mohanna’s work is the opposite of an indictment; it’s a full-scale embrace. We have passed beyond simple co-existence, he seems to be saying; this is the sound of what we want, amplified to the nth degree. (Richard Allen)