Liz Allbee and Hans Grüsel - Strategies for Failure/Zuckerkrieg

Sometimes coincidence sure feels like synchronicity. I was asked to help out with a bran(…)pos show in Lincoln last year, which was my introduction to his music, as well as the San Francisco label Resipiscent Records. As you might recall, I dug the hell out of Den of Ordure & Iridescence, and I went on to get way into pretty much everything bran(…)pos-related I could find. And I still spend a lot of time in the "Den." Easily one of the best records of 2013.

As I thumbed through the Resipiscent catalog, I found myself unfamiliar with a lot of the artists, but having heard a few more of their releases, it's clear that I need lots of these wild sounds rattling around in my head. Now I feel like I'm almost destined to hear as much of the Resipiscent label as possible. Their spring release this year was a split between Liz Allbee and Hans Grüsel, both of whom have appeared in their roster before (Allbee's solo debut "Quarry Tones" actually launched the label), and like bran(...)pos, both artists turn in immersive, undefinable, and utterly addictive pieces.

"Strategies for Failure/Zuckerkrieg" presents truly deep listening in the form of a side-length piece each from Allbee and Grüsel. This pair of electroacoustic compositions hang very well together, as both artists share a delirious joy for turning extended-technique acoustic playing and extreme synthesis/deployment-of-effects into almost physically tangible daydreams and daymares. Maybe you can still manage to vacuum your living room with this record on, but there might be psychic consequences. Sit down and listen.

Allbee's side, whose full title is "Strategies for Failure and Relief From Persistent Positive Symptoms," goes through a few distinct movements. The opening section uses some very low sub-bass alternating in a minor-3rd riff, sometimes crashing together to create thick acousmatic combination tones. Over this, Allbee recites a few verses related to freedom and control, alternating with solo lines on a heavily-effected trumpet, delivering very crispy, wasp tones that contrast nicely with the intense bass. The section is almost like an incredibly slowed-down blues riff bouncing around the walls of a rubber room. This gets violently interrupted with synths and effected trumpets around the seven-minute mark, eventually pausing to introduce a new section of intense high-(concert)-G trumpet tones, pushing and pulling around the mic, bending, subtly falling into weird room reverbs in the background. Eventually the trumpet approach heads into extended-technique territory not far from Zorn's "Classic Guide to Strategy" solo work, with liquid sounds and gurgles and game calls. Toward the end of the piece, chimes and bells gradually take over the mix, and layers of muted trumpet and vocals softly appear. Like the introduction, Allbee recites some great lines whose meaning is surely subject to a wide berth of interpretation: as Allbee says, "The words conceal what they mean like a mystery." At the end, powerful subtones gently launch the piece out to sea.

The Allbee piece feels very personal, and listening is a little like overhearing a handful of secrets without knowing the full context of their relevance. In contrast, Grüsel's "Zuckerkrieg (Part 1)" has a more archetypal kind of feeling, evoking deluge myths and perpetually-haunted forests. It starts gently enough, with subtle beats colliding, at times feeling like they're falling in and out of clear metric relationships. But when modular synths and heavily-treated acoustic instruments build into a complex wall of sound, one rapidly feels like Edgard Varèse stumbling out of a promethazine factory. The dense fog lifts, revealing the gentlest section of all, taps and scrapes that sound like the product of contact mics on balsa wood or paper scraps. Chewing and creaking sounds drift back in, and intense field recordings of wind force the mix to an overwhelming mass, obscuring what must be lots of wind instruments buried in effects: trumpets like the bleating of fearful goats, bassoons trapped in amber resin. Complex fields of synth tones form as the wind subsides, mingling with even more horns/reeds awash in effects. Toward the end, it's obvious that heavily-altered strings have been pushing to reveal melodies, and horns have strived to reveal tense chord clusters, but the effects and the surrounding synths continue to terrorize their acoustic sisters (though a few overdubbed trombone swells come through clearly). As "Zukerkrieg" translates loosely to "sugar war," I'm left with impressions of melted, caramelizing goo all over everything in this crazy mix by its sticky end.

On the compositional front, both pieces on this LP seem obviously composed by folks who have taken very serious stock of the resources bestowed on us in 20th. C. academic music circles--the forceful approach to electronics of Xenakis, the sometimes brash densities of Ligeti's sound mass music, just to name a couple--but they also have much more of an emotional impact on me than "the classics." Jesus, I wish somebody would've hipped me to artists like this in music school, as they're every bit as nutritious as "legit" composers, but they're obviously having a much better time. And they're much more connected to culture-at-large, evoking lots of fun/campy/creepy points of reference at every turn. The extramusical aspects of this work--costumes, set design, web/video work, etc--really come through in the music, too. A couple of minutes into either one of these pieces, I felt pretty sure that these folks can hang with composer-types while knowing a lot more about treating true "happening"-style events where people can really get down.

In terms of art and packaging, this split comes in one of those plastic jackets with a reversible poster-style insert, so you can face your favorite cover art outward. I'm leaving the creepy monster art by Bonnie Banks for the Grüsel side out on mine (my copy also has a couple of cut-out gingerbread monsters and a pre-weathered paper thing that you can position how you'd like inside the jacket), but the spooky science-lab art by Alibi & Beins for the Allbee side is great, too. And this is a beautifully-mastered production for vinyl, pressed to very clean vinyl. With lots of quiet passages, the surface noise of vinyl can sometimes be irritating on pieces like these, but this pressing is fantastic. This is a small run of only 250 copies, but you're in luck: Resipiscent still has a copy waiting just for you.

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