Review of Varied [12k1018]

Haunted Ink (US)

0/r is *0 (Nosei Sakata) and Richard Chartier, two artists on the outer fringes of audibility. If you took their combined output (a dozen or so releases) and added all the sounds up, the results would still barely register on most stereo systems. In fact, Sakata’s 0.000 consists entirely of sound that can’t be heard by human ears, and Chartier’s Of Surfaces is almost equally inaudible. These guys, in short, have made careers out of creating music no one can hear.

So, what about Varied? Well, it’s a lot more musical than earlier *0 and Chartier efforts, but that’s not saying much. Actually, it’s probably one of the most esoteric works released on the 12k label, a work that’s subsumed in the minutiae of grain synthesis, the crackly sand pebbles of sound that burp and chirp their way through so much electronic music today. That’s not to say that the work is too elitist to appreciate; far from it. Although the sounds on this release are nowhere near as engrossing as those on Shuttle358’s Frame Mokira’s Clickhop, there is a subtlety on this work, a graceful blend of fluttering ambience and burbling static.

Of Varied’s eight tracks, one stands above all the rest: “Varied_06.48,” an amazing work and one of the most memorable songs in the 12k catalogue. The random clinks of what sound like window chimes float above and around vague hints of snaps, thumps, hisses, and bleeps. This is an ambient paradise that reminds me of an electrified Zen landscape of sound, only occasionally interrupted by showers of noise. It is, without question, a beautiful composition; sparse yet soothing, erratic yet coherent, reserved yet unique.

The other tracks, while nowhere near as beautiful as “Varied_06.48,” are replete with interesting and memorable moments. Some borrow elements of “6.48” but use these toward different (less interesting) ends. Some focus more on stretching and twisting particular noises until there’s little actual “noise” left. And some are simply interested in fiddling with sounds. “Varied_09.07” falls into the latter category. It has a minimal rhythm structure that sounds like a more melodious version of a telegraph. It’s a long song (as the “9.07” suggests), but it holds the listener’s attention (well, my attention) fairly well because the rhythm bends and weaves around a series of almost imperceptible low-frequency toms that shift and dart around your ears. It’s an interesting song because it seems so simple, so repetitive, and yet it is anything but simple and repetitive. It is, in short, a maze that you must follow to the end to fully appreciate.

This is, without question, a subtle work, and a work that demands a great deal out of the listener. If you are willing to meet this work half-way, that is, if you are willing to sit and listen to each song, to follow the maze of sounds to their end, then you will be rewarded, as I was, with a great experience. If not, then you’ll be bored.

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