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Carter Tutti Void - Transverse

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Artist: Carter Tutti Void

Album: Transverse

Label: Mute

Review date: Apr. 5, 2012

Though the album was determined as a logical conclusion to the creative process, it’s safe to say there’s no better term for what’s happening on Transverse than its title. Per Merriam-Webster, that’s “acting, lying, or being across: set crosswise.” The kind of sprawling out across musical and cultural reference points during the course of these four “songs” is every bit as impressive as one might expect (or have been led to believe).

Rewind: Last May, Mute Records asked Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey to perform at their annual Short Circuit festival label showcase at London’s Roundhouse off the Chalk Farm Tube stop. Though they could have performed their own material, Carter and Tutti thought it would be more interesting to collaborate with Nik Void of Factory Floor. They were familiar with one another through previous performances (and a mutual manager), and the sonic debt Factory Floor owes the ‘Gristle is apparent. Among the £30 Friday performances that included Richie Hawtin, Moby, Nitzer Ebb and Gudrun Gut was this collaboration tucked away in a back room.

The YouTube videos that surfaced soon after were nice accompaniment and appropriate metaphors for the aesthetic but add little beyond that — Carter, Tutti and Void make no visible effort to put on a “show” (ironic given that Tutti has said she struggled to focus on the music as she fed off the crowd’s increasing enthusiasm during the performance). The labyrinthine cables, endless effects pedals, and inevitable MacBooks are an appropriate update on Throbbing Gristle’s “industrial music for industrial people,” but actually watching it isn’t very interesting. As such, there’s no real gain in glamorizing the live show without talking about the music.

Ah, but that music is something to behold. Far from being merely “Music from the Death Factory Floor,” Transverse is an immersive experience both wholly part and completely separate from its creators, a wasteland of industrial ghosts, merciless techno and unholy others of the avant-garde. Free of any post-production whatsoever (though studio edits of “V4” exist), Transverse is a faithful document to the occasion.

Carter was working the rhythms stage center on the night; as you might’ve guessed, the backbone, the anchor of these songs, varies only a few beats per minute from “V1” to “V4.” I’m reminded of Dominick Fernow’s Vatican Shadow or Karl O’Connor through most of his single-minded later work as Regis and in Sandwell District with how these sinister rhythms change carefully but almost always unnoticed.

Which was the intent, of course. Carter insisted upon giving Tutti and Void the space they needed to develop each song. Each obliges thoughtfully, Void using a bow on her guitar and Tutti adding the occasionally mangled vocal in addition to her headless guitar tones. The alien chimes and pitches coupled with Tutti’s distant, wordless voice on “V2” recall both Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1950s electronic compositions and Karin Dreijer-Andersson in equal measure. To think that they’d met up in Norfolk to jam for the first time just days before this performance makes its delicate balance all the more surprising. We’re connecting dots across 60-plus years of music history here, from musique concrète and industrial through post-punk and techno on to the post-affixed landscape of what we know now. That’s no small feat for three people in 40 minutes.

I understand if you read a sudden, overwhelming glut of praise for Transverse and raised an eyebrow in suspicion. The only thing I can tell you is that it’s all true and to keep listening. I’ve read it, too, and despite getting fed up with the recycled lines of exultation, I keep dumping all this cultural baggage and going back to the album because, after all, I wasn’t there. The best thing I can say about it is that I find the same revelatory interactions and illuminations play after play. Alongside Velvet Songs: To Baba Fred Anderson and for many of the same reasons, it is among the past half-decade’s few priceless live artifacts.

By Patrick Masterson

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