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V/A - Blank Field

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Artist: V/A

Album: Blank Field

Label: Alien8

Review date: Dec. 14, 2005

Blank Field is a compilation of excerpts of experimental music curated by Francisco López for the Cité des Ondes event which took place in Montreal from September 16 to 23, 2002. López himself sits in the editor’s seat, mixing and mastering and generally doing a fine job of segueing the tracks so each runs seamlessly into the next. He must also take credit for trying to give some lesser names (at least to me) some deserved exposure alongside some of the noise genre’s biggest guns. However, Blank Field suffers from some of the same pitfalls that plague many compilations – consistency of quality and compromise of context. While López does his best to ensure each artist is well represented by their excerpt, his magic wand stops a little short of performing the miraculous, i.e. turning water into wine. Contributions from Manon Anne Gillis and Shunichiro Okada fail to ignite, the former entry predominantly consisting of dull rhythmic loops akin to Dr. Who’s TARDIS constantly misfiring, and the latter a digital blowout with seemingly little direction or point. While Michael Northam’s juxtaposition of field recordings (running water, rustling leaves and birdsong) and brooding metallic drone successfully navigates similar seas to those chartered by Mirror, Monos, Andrew Chalk et al, inevitably (and somewhat disappointingly), it is the bigger names who weigh in with the lion’s share of quality material.

Oren Ambarchi’s piece shifts the mood into more mellow territory. Combining plucked strings over gently shimmering Fennesz-esque shades of light, it’s a little melodic diamond in the rough. Merzbow’s contribution is typical in its ferocity, layers of low-end rumble and high end skree pan from speaker to speaker, gradually building to form monumental surges of power and bursts of sheer energy from which there is no escape; it’s the closest thing I can imagine to living inside the spasmodic mind of Proteus IV, the renegade computer from Donald Cammell’s horror classic Demon Seed.

But the set’s highlight is Daniel Menche’s closing track. Commencing with an insectoid roar, the hymn of a thousand killer bees descending upon an unsuspecting coastal town. Panic stricken stragglers start up engines for the exodus; the sound of machine and nature melding in the unforgiving night, waking the dead whose screams form an unholy choir as chainsaws begin to whirr in the distance. By the end, it’s impossible to say which side has emerged from the cacophonic debris. That Menche manages to sustain the meditative aggression whilst never losing the listener’s interest is testament to his abilities. It makes it all the more regrettable that Blank Field did not include a visual component, complete with accompanying footage of Menche’s infamously physical live stage performances.

By Spencer Grady

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