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Z'ev - Headphone Musics 1 to 6

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Artist: Z'ev

Album: Headphone Musics 1 to 6

Label: Touch

Review date: Jan. 26, 2005

Although industrial music pioneer and London resident Z’ev is primarily known for bringing non-traditional percussive voicings to the ’70s NYC avant-garde scene, he’s also a fearsome tape manipulator. With an uncanny ability to fuse the shockingly abrasive with the breathtakingly panoramic, Zev’s recorded work is both intimidating and sublime. His studies in collage began under the tutelage of Joseph Byrd – the oft mentioned University of California professor and one time United States of America leader – an auspicious beginning that led to the cataloging and re-assemblage of taped sound that is Headphone Musics 1 to 6. A deep plunge into a terrain of wide pans, intervalic distortion and “sound poetry,” the disc is another example of Z’ev’s preternatural compositional style.

While the study of phase relationships is not a new concept in experimental music, Z’ev manages to find a direct path to the otherworldly by employing visceral techniques that rarely allow the ear a moments rest. Found sound, scripted bashing on heavy commercial equipment, and shamanic singing are all part of the puzzle. Breath is deadly and whispers volcanic in Z’ev’s savage sphere. Though expansive, his rusty, howling works are spiked and barbed – exacting their pound of flesh from the listener with surgical precision. Like flickering shadows on slate grey walls, aural wrinkles appear and fade away with chaotic certitude, never content to settle into predictable patterns.

The curdled horror of “# 5” features sounds originally recorded in an empty three story printing press in Amsterdam in 1984. Menacing breaths, sighs and whispers waft through corridors of industrial clanging, creating an unsettling ambient domain. The space between sounds is as shuddersome as the sounds themselves, an attribute shared by most of the album’s seven cuts. Balinese tree frogs recorded in the ’70s form the basis of “#2,” some 14 stereo tracks including a “controlled skipping” turntable are employed to create sheets of cascading tone. The piece is perhaps the least harrowing of any on the record, but is still not entirely hospitable.

Z’ev’s 30+ year-old collection of tape may have provided the source material for the compositions on Headphone Musics, but it’s his skills in editing and time dilation that thread the sounds together in an encompassing environment of contemplative dread. Much has been made of Z’ev’s mystical and occult leanings, but even without an understanding of the esoteric elements that inform his themes, the music remains an evocative aggregate of mood and menace.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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