Arvo Zylo - 333
Our next DIY artist is Chicago's Arvo Zylo, a genre-defying musician who is also the host of The Delirious Insomniac Freeform Radio show on WLUW, which airs from midnight to 4AM on Monday mornings (Facebook page for the show here). Zylo sent a copy of his "333" on CD (it's also been available in a cassette edition), an incredibly deep record whose creation spanned six years. I've been digging into this recording for a few months--while it makes a powerful statement on first listening, it continues to reveal new secrets every time I put it on.
The story behind this album points to discipline through adversity: "333" was started in 2003, using only an RM1x sequencer while squatting in an abandoned house, and the piece continued to evolve until being mastered in 2009. As one might expect from the circumstances of its birth, it's a dark, bleak outing, but it's not a simple release of rage. This is detailed work, rich in nuanced layers of sound whose precise deployment points toward careful working and reworking of every element. Most records I hear that gravitate toward harsh noise/power electronics have a certain immediacy or even haste evident in their production, but the nature of "333" involves time and architecture.
For a recording created with a device that functions essentially as a step sequencer, this music is incredibly varied--you never get the vibe of someone simply pushing buttons to move between simple sequences. And these pieces use a huge dynamic range, from walls of noise to pensive, early-industrial textures. There isn't a lot of pitch-driven content: sounds and textures are used rhythmically, articulated with filters and other onboard effects, which is another approach I don't often associate with sequencers. But this recording feels like it had to be made, and it transcends its limited equipment resources as though the music couldn't be stopped.
"333" is made of three long compositions. The first, "Quicksand Eggs of a Beaten Pathos," is over 30 minutes, quite a ride on its own. "Quicksand" starts with a short bass-driven introduction before leaping headfirst into walls of sound. Power electronics textures dominate until we reach the 7-minute mark, where a midrange riff begins to take over. The interplay between evolving textures and riffs continues for much of the piece, punctuated with really harsh rhythms that propel the music forward. Around 18 minutes, the piece dissolves into near-silence, eventually coalescing into a really cool synth ostinato figure, turning on itself repeatedly, and this section gets extensively reworked with sections of pads and countermelodies that shift focus momentarily toward harmonic function. Some almost drum & bass-sounding rhythms bring up the energy toward the end, followed by some stuttering rhythmic stabs and heavily filtered synth blips. From drones to harsh noise, "Quicksand" integrates a number of compositional impulses into a powerful whole.
The other two pieces, "Deadbeat Deluxe" and "Plasthma," are shorter, their combined length not quite reaching that of "Quicksand" alone. But these are complex pieces that travel across compositional approaches, too. "Deadbeat" uses some interesting, almost dub-like drops between rhythmic ideas, eventually melting into clusters of colliding note sequences driven by brutal quarter-note rhythms. "Plasthma's" first half is perhaps the most texturally-driven section of the album, eventually giving way to some of the most harmonically-dominated writing on the record in its second half, which almost sounds like an early Residents recording at times. As other reviews of the album have noted, one can certainly hear a lot of early industrial, noise, and electronic music influences in "333," but there is a certain compositional flair that combines and juxtaposes the musical sections in a more classical sense. I'm sometimes reminded of the most explosive trill/repeated-note moments in Nancarrow's player piano studies, or "Systems Emerge"-era Flying Luttenbachers. These works all share an especially personal energy that is usually only possible when a composer is also the sole performer/programmer of their work.
Listening to this album as a purely aesthetic experience is satisfying enough, but there is a larger concept behind this music that I think is worth exploring for a deeper context. As Zylo describes it, "To this day, and for at least 9 years, the artist has seen a series of numbers, "333," on clocks or other various places constantly; nearly every day, to the degree that it has become a fixation." In keeping with some of the magical resonance in the early industrial movement, the "333 current" seems to play a significant role in this recording. The Thelemic tradition associated 333 with the Crossing of the Abyss, essentially a process of confronting and (hopefully) transcending the Ego, and with the figure of Chronozon, essentially a "chaos god" of the Abyss itself, beyond good and evil (but usually pretty evil-looking!). The number gets associated with concepts like forgetfulness, lies, "breaks," redemption, and the darkness/overwhelming potential of total revelation. Later chaos magic traditions have continued to associate the 333 current/Chronozon concept with the Ego, somewhat softening the drama of the encounter to more of an acknowledgement/release process rather than confrontation/transcendence, in rituals such as Peter Carroll's "Mass of Chronozon."One doesn't need to be a believer or practitioner of such traditions to find their philosophies and archetypal implications interesting, and knowing a bit about them seems to illuminate this record nicely, with its ever-shifting shapes and conversations between melodic and textural ideas. You can find more information about "333," as well as other projects involving Arvo Zylo, at http://www.nopartofit.com.
--also published at Killed in Cars