V/A ~ Relatives Schoensein

Street art meets sound art on this vibrant compilation, a global endeavor involving over 40 artists and nearly five hours of music.  Relatives Schoensein also reminds us of the value of the physical format, as the 92-page book that accompanies the digital set is packed with images of colorful, abraded art.  The images inspire the music, although it’s easy to flip the script and imagine the opposite: hearing the music, grabbing the paint.

Amby Downs begins the set with a dark, foggy piece, setting the baseline from which the long narrative will develop.  It’s an understated beginning, a tabula rasa.  When Black Lung adds bells, we prepare for a variety of divergences.  Carlo Giustini takes a more ghostly path, implying the phrase, “if streets could talk …”  An early phrase in the book sums up the approach:  “Beauty is an abstract thing and what we think of beauty is based on individual experiences and therefore different to every human being.  Beauty thus is relative.”  The principle applies to both audio and image.  Not everyone likes dark ambient, drone, abrasion and noise; for many, it’s an acquired taste.  When C-drik presents what sounds like amplified munching locusts, many will turn away; but some will stay to listen, perhaps intently because they want to understand.  To some, this is horror; to others, dissonance; to others, as the quote indicates, beauty.

The same principle applies to the art, which some might consider ruined, ripped, peeled, cracked or otherwise past its prime.  There’s an appeal to layers of playbills, re-rolled walls, dripping spray paint, and tiny windows through which one can see the original cement ~ just as there is an appeal to the washed out voices of Conure’s “Surface, Media, Portrayal?”, which also manages to be political, implying a whitewashed story, a painted-over truth.  And oh, the colors!  Unnaturally bent rainbows, spectrums not found in any prism, olives and aquas, peaches and teals.

Just as one thinks one “gets” the compilation, Coppice Halifax offers “Sunworn,” a quarter-hour, percussive piece that glimmers like its title.  Day follows night.  In similar fashion, the ironically named Desolate Horizons offers wave upon wave of choral voice and key, like a slow, astonishing sunrise.  The image prompting the piece could indeed be a sun, or it might be the silhouette of a running man, gripped by a giant fist.  The interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.

We become reacquainted with Ezra Fike, who charmed us last year with Mail Room, the sounds of a summer spent in copier hell.  “Fog Surrogate” is painted with whispers and a child’s cries, painted in brilliant colors, and reminiscent of 80s synth scores: a pleasant surprise.  Fail’s “Erode” is a welcome blast of pure noise, growing louder and louder until it covers every sonic cranny.  In contrast, Gallery Six restores a sense of (temporary) peace with “Still Flowing,” played atop a babbling brook.  We recall that contrast is the key to appreciating darker sounds; INYAN also incorporates water sounds, but is much more ominous.  Then our old friend Jen Kutler (Disembodied) resurfaces, and we wonder at the taste of the well-named Adventurous Music; they enjoy the same avant-garde artists we do!  Kutler’s “Turn” may accompany the image of a bicycle, but it implies a darker turn to rumination or regret.  A rusty swing visits the latter part of the piece, but seems less playful than foreboding.

Like Fail before him, Joe Hassick pours on the noise.  “66 Mya” is oppressive and inescapable, yet strangely soothing, because while it is playing, nothing else can get in.  The pas-de-deux between drone and beat will continue to develop over the course of the set, dance / don’t dance, scream / don’t scream / relax / don’t relax.  On some occasions, as in Jo Montgomery’s well-named “Transitions” and Sturqen’s “Cruz,” seeming opposites are reconciled within the same track.  And if anyone doubts that the street art inspired the music, check out Mai 12’s “Turquoise, Grey, White, Black” or Nyppy’s “Yellow” ~ each a perfect match.

What do we see when we look at injured works of art?  Is the Venus de Milo broken, or uniquely attractive thanks to her lack of arms?  If a poster is glossy and lacking in subtlety, might age, deterioration and even vandalism increase its appeal?  How clean do we want our art to be?  And in a related fashion, how clean do we want our music to be?  For the mainstream, the answer is “very clean, with identifiable edges, melodic formulas and repeated lyrics.”  Or nothing like Resinate’s “Salt,” which does have beats, but also an odd, garbled breakdown and a desire to please absolutely no one; despite which, we are pleased.  We also like the fact that stolen moments of clarity (Olan Mill, Signalstoerung) rest comfortably amid the wreckage.  Thedi is not headed for the Top 40.  Thedi does not care.  Thedi is happy to be in this group of 42.

Late in the collection, Veronica Moser introduces another form of supposed ruin: the “Broken Blues Record.” Stuck in multiple grooves, the needle has a hard time moving forward.  Static and crackle abound.  Somehow, we glean the possibility that the ruined record sounds better than the original.  Then the plastic circle itself disappears, like Cheshire vinyl.  A sinister narrator speaks of potential violence as the sonic world crumbles around him.  The loop returns with a vengeance, like an angry ghost; then in Vrum’s “Behind the Wall,” footsteps tread toward an industrial beat.  Two slow forays imply that the set is headed to a soft conclusion, until 16Pad Noise Terrorist’s “Breakstreet” arrives, replete with scratching: an nod to “Beat Street” and graffiti culture in general.  The 42nd track is the set’s fastest, yet concludes in the static of a run-out groove.  Time is accelerating; yesterday’s art has become tomorrow’s; beauty appears in unexpected places.  (Richard Allen)

Available here

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