WIZARD PRISON: “II” ****

Recorded 2005

 

Wizard Prison is a Seattle-based multimedia duo consisting of recording experts Scott Colburn and Ben McAllister. A self-declared ‘audio-wizard’ Scott Colburn is a musical institution in Seattle, with much of his fame owed to the productions of Sun City Girls’ and Climax Golden Twins’ records. He finally gained well deserved recognition after recording what probably was Animal Collective’s best album.

 

 

Inventor Ben McAllister is a computer music graduate with a career divided into (and united by) ventures into film composition, sound design and audio engineering.

 

Although Colburn’s recording style has arguably been focused on capturing live aesthetic, Wizard Prison sounds uniquely refined, if not overdecorative. Whenever it falls into the clichés of electronic rock, it is instantly rescued by the authors’ highly developed sense of space and considerable experience with a wide variety of approaches to both electronic and acoustic (microphones) media.

 

 

A mystical fable accompanies this record. There seems to be a Daevid Allenish mischief to it – at least for those who bother to read the story. And it is pleasant to think of this record as a ‘concept album’.

 

 

 

Gogon’s Family Conference

This is studio wizardry at its most unhurried, liquid and glowing. Warm guitar tones, appeasing organ and looped bass all benefit from stylized electronic misplacement. The thematic focus comes from an unexpected source. A Chinese kid declaims affectively verses by Wang Anshi, a poet from Northern Song period. The qiyenjueju phrases celebrate the coming of Spring and the radiance of the sun. Wang was a political figure and a failed revolutionary, and somewhat of a political tone continues as a recording from Communist China’s radio spews some venom against the reforms of Taiwanese parliamentary system. This is followed by snippets in Cantonese. I am not entirely sure if Colburn and McAllister were aware of the semantic content of the excerpt. Western avant-garde musicians have been using tapes with Chinese speech since at least the times of Paul Boisselet’s “Symphonie rouge” (1947), but the proceeding usually reflected little more than the fascination with Mandarin’s quadritonal form. Colburn and McAllister overlay scratchy, processed voices, with the kid repeating the Chinese line. But it remains drowned deep inside the dense, nocturnal atmosphere, not unlike Jah Wobble’s “Bedroom Album”. Colburn once admitted that he despises fronting vocal parts in pop mix.

 

Sao Palo

Despite being more uptempo, this track is sill mudded with those ill-defined Czukay-esque bass and drums loops, punctured here and there by an extra guitar chord. Parading snare drums and woofy organ portend none of the heavy metal guitar blast, which riffs out confidently with its bass underbelly. The structure becomes heavily fractured – electronically rich, but interspersed with anthemic choruses (most likely Asian female voices, but I can’t identify the language, buried in the racket). Tight, dry drumwork distracts from the groove, but the sustained guitar chords usher in a quasi-mantric mood. The distressed female chorus gets re-sampled, re-mixed and re-mingled within the guitar riff and intensifying glitches that wean an entire miasma of bleeps in the style of Yoshihide Otomo’s solo works. As a final accent, acoustic piano takes over, surrounded by cymbals and distant scuttling guitars, all served in a soup of drones. It fades away through the guitar reverb into an echo of nothingness.

 

The Word of the Imaginary Vision

A 1980s indie rock guitar theme is tamed here by some amateur choral work (sports fans?). This sub-theme crosses the riff line, destabilizing the dominant meter.

 

Tea Dreams

The drum-and-hi-hat work is so metric that one could suspect a frayed metaphor of an old-time chug-chug locomotive, with a siren. Clinically insulated Fender Rhodes note is being repeated ad nauseam, but without the grace that the Necks have accustomed us to over the last decade. This repetition imparts an illusion of ascendance but only because the rock trio core breaks it every 8th note. If there is variety in this track, then it is provided by some wailing voices in the distance, and then by the return of China International Radio Station, which re-appears pompous as ever.

 

Gugon’s Visionary Plan

Cosmic keyboard pulses meet spectral guitar, padded bass and innocuous drumming that turn this to little more than stargazing from a nighttime beach. An unexpected trumpet call intones a wavering “shakuhachi” song. Acoustic guitars turn up in purely supportive, rhythmic role.

 

Sunn Kill Moon

This longer (21min) track opens with pulsating, blobbing electronics and a throbbing bass line. Wizard Prison shifts scales effortlessly, as the largely discredited 1970s’ sequencer music would do. But the sense of space is limited and so is the range – none of the tempting extremes of high and low register that sequencer-based classics accustomed us to. Only tiny bells accentuate the cleaner side of well-rounded, doughy ambience. The bass throb does not seem to be entirely in synch with the sequenced line of the higher register, but the asynchrony fails to generate any vertiginous sensations that, for example, Deuter’s first LP did. Then the throb is left alone to fend for itself, and is progressively demoted to the nether regions of an electric motor. The interactions between mid-range and lower pulses become quite abstract and never adopt explicitly melodious mantle. Admittedly, 40 years after Morton Subotnick’s seminal bubbly electronics, this passage does appear a mite too derivative. Finally, a dirty guitar fuzz is thrown in and reverberates with a long sustain. In an appendix, a Michael Karoli-styled second guitar washes in repeated frames, pushing away the electronic canvas into the deep background, out of the auditory reach. We are left with towering guitar sound, not unlike on Steven R. Smith’s or Steven R. Lobdell’s solo outings. A slow guitar theme emerges from inside the blizzard of electronic effects. It turns evidently illustrative, with chromatic effects, alien bubbles, mysterious ostinatos, and sharp fuzz incisions. A sense of foreboding prevails throughout. Bass outcrops will suffer injections of intrusive guitar until the end.

 

***

 

 

WIZARD PRISON: “The Early Years 1972-2005” (1974-2002)

WIZARD PRISON: “II” (2005)

 

The “Early Years” document Ben McAllister’s experiments and film soundtracks.

 

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Rock Album)” ****

Recorded 1993-2000

 

The Seattle-based duo of Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor began to record their initially lo-fi avant-rock sketches around 1993.  They quickly developed penchant for studio improvisations, often produced by Scott Colburn and manned by several regular collaborators, among them drummer John Vallier, sonic explorer Jeph Jerman and visual artist Jesse Paul Miller.

 

Despite their post-hardcore sensitivity, several of their explorations ventured deep into sound documentary.  At its most esoteric, Climax Golden Twins celebrated the form pioneered by Luc Ferrari’s revolutionary field recordings.  On the other hand, the band’s studio avatar alternated between avant-rock collections and dreamy compendia of loops, drones and sinewaves.  It is the latter incarnation that has contributed auditory haze to countless art exhibitions, radio, theater, film and dance performances.

 

More recently, the duo reappeared under the Climax Golden Twins moniker in a more cohesive, orientalist rock format, officiating as a promising substitute the now defunct co-locals Sun City Girls.  This is more than a coincidence.  Robert Millis had for years collected field recordings in South East Asia, some of which have now appeared on Sublime Frequeuncies’ series. 

 

Climax Golden Twins are also behind Victriola Favorites – a highly enjoyable collection of deeply obscure 78rpm singles from first decades of the 20th century, a treasure imported from most exotic destinations including Japan, Turkey, Burma, China etc.  Charming acetate documents occasionally make an appearance in the band’s multi-layered textures. 

 

 

 

Does Your Mother Know I’m Here?

After a brief phonemic cluster of unknown origin, acoustic guitars begin to strum lazily, carrying us through a stagnant, slumbering environment, laced with glasslike chimes.  Aimless infant vocals vanish somewhere in the backyard.  The informal atmosphere is breezy, summerlike. 

 

German

The beguine accents turn this primitivist guitar piece into a quasi dance.  It is as if the guitars surreptitiously spied on something, lurking and poking around in a comical fashion.  A self-replicating piano chord obsesses deliriously with little effect.  Unenthusiastically, drums, bells and some non-resonant guitar plucking fill the space.  More abstract cymbal and piano missive finish this off.  It is the “dance” character of this piece that drew references to Fred Frith’s Ralph-label period.

 

Ballroom

This begins with heavy tympani pounding.  Animist Orchestra’s Jeph Jerman rolls around some round or spherical objects, placing us in the middle of the installation.  The skeletal melodic component is sourced from an ostentatiously purposeless, clacking guitar/bass/drum trio of Mills, Taylor and Vallier.  Despite the radicality of metallic scraping behind them, the sustained bass line makes the band’s outing almost spacey.  In turn, the fuzz guitar erupts violently in short, scalding bursts.  All along, the mysterious round objects keep rolling.  The track wanes when a more prudent guitar peels away gentle notes along with respectful clinking from little bells.

 

To Float

This (longer) track wastes about a minute before audible elements can be captured.  These “elements” unfold into a tardily progressing rock trio with simple tempo runs on bongos.  Rhythmically pedant, the beat is unmasked as purely accidental when a screeching guitar unfurls a dirty fuzz carpet, eventually spreading over the pounded drum, rather monothematic bass and some insulated piano keys.  This pattern of tortuous progress is reiterated after each fuzz relapse.  An acoustic guitar closes the piece.

 

Choked Up

Under a prominent bass ostinato and a trickle of cymbals, oval effects pile up, mutating into a rocking behemoth when the bass drum joins to pinpoint the offensive ostinato.  Almost instantly, a choking vocal deprives this “rock” number of any semblance of commercial potential.  The sound is processed through folding, faulting, caving effects. As usual, the piece ends with a contrasting accent – this time from skittery percussion.

 

Heavy Hippie Shit

Here the bass falls even lower – to a threatening register as perfected by Boris.  But the palette is more diverse: detuned acoustic guitar, grimy, coarse guitar fuzz hijacked from the densest of metals, organ’s vitreous resonance and marimba. 

 

My Peppy Loins

A strangely tuned “Asian” string instrument (cha’pei?) cackles, followed by a speed punk suprematism in search of something to loathe. 

 

Cough…  Sniff…

Satanic growl is being smothered by a heavy tornado of several electric guitars, and curiously inept drumming.  Harsh electro-core production places this excursion somewhere between the realms of Orthrelm and Psychic Paramount.  Overall, it is a sonically repulsive experience, unless you’re in the mood for discord.

 

Composed

Sticks, toy xylophone and acoustic guitar strum, pluck, click and crackle.  There is something Art Bears-ian in the ascendant, skeletal harmonies of this anti-professionally delivered track.

 

Microspace Patrol II

Non-metric drumming evades any responsibility for rhythmic structure, allowing the fuzz guitar to play with feedback.  The band wakes up into a solid avant-rock number.  Were it more rhythmically complex, it could be categorized alongside Canada’s Fat. 

 

Theme from Climax Golden Twins

Southwestern atmospheric heavy rock – melodically one of the most promising moments on this record, plunges into discordance and is cut off way too early.

 

Telephone Call from the 70s

Billy Cox-like bass could be considered an anachronism.  But Climax Golden Twins insists on jabbing the listener with colliding messages – a phoned “hello”, high-end feedback, annoying organ, itinerant, stop-go beats. 

 

Frankly

If you remember pre-industrial bass utilized by Joachim Stender in German band PD, then the Twins get pretty close.  It migrates through pre-recorded dance tunes, vocal tapes playing backwards, various voices, engine-prepping guitar.  Despite non-rational sawing and scratching, occasional piano tremolo and some dramatic vocal interjections, there are unfortunately not enough ideas to keep it continually interesting. 

 

You Drove Me, Nearly Drove Me

Groovy Hammond organ teletransported from 1950s small-town pre-rockandroll dance party could have remembered Vivien Leigh’s first steps.  Yet no saccharine allowed here.  Tweeting and twittering juts out from a tape run within a reading range recording head.  The effect is simple, but ingenious; it does chirp and occasionally sings.  And then, an eerie crooner at half-speed does, indeed, loop in a line from the title. 

 

Swan

Probably the strongest moment on the disc.  This Heat-like guitar symphony with rambunctious drums, simple electronics and tapes thrown into the sonic whirlwind.  It plods on ponderously, toxified further by stammering bray.  The lead guitar crafts a solo and a scream resonates inauspiciously.  The hoarse voice later returns, if only to incinerate the gates of hell. 

 

A Door A Fish Your Head

Clarinets and Gene Krupa-like archaic 12-bar drumming accompany a failed recitation of “Poems for a Dead Man”.  Amplified, jazzy guitar softly points to the verse ends, with the warm clarinet pouring in additional color.  Later, the clarinet pierces in Ornette Coleman’s style.

 

Pop

Here’s the basic trio falls into a groove.  Structurally, this is a dialogue between two simple themes: one tense and suspenseful, one joyful enough to resolve the suspense.  After some to-and-fro, a Jon Hassell-like windblown effect quells the dispute.

 

1, 2, 3, 4

Voice snippets are followed by a cut-up punk charge.  Black metal vocal hurls lethal syllables whenever the charge stops to take a breather. 

 

Lampshade Market

A relaxed tabla, field recordings and exoticist guitars à la Sir Richard Bishop, crowd in a market full of children’s voices. 

 

Drink Me

Back to the beginning.  A sizzle sneaks through a rather random mapping of acoustic guitar strumming, melodica blowing and crystalline intonation.  The guitar cradles slowly, effective and swinging, but relatively uneventful.  Then it attempts to impersonate poor-man’s Appalachia plucking style, despite the geographic and cultural gulf that separates the coal miners from Seattle’s coffee shops… Isn’t it closer to Thailand?

 

 

***

 

1. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins” 2EP (1994)

2. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Three Inch” MCD (1995)

3. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Imperial Household Orchestra” (1996)

4. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Lovely” (1997)

5. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Locations)” (1998)

6. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Dreams Cut Short in the Mysterious Clouds” (1999)

7. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Rock Album)” (1993, 2000)

8. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Session 9” (1995, 2000)

9. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Highly Bred and Strictly Tempered” (2004)

10. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins” (2006)

11. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Five Cents a Piece” (2007) 

 

The band has also issued plenty of cassettes and I am yet to hear several of their early recordings.  Position 8 is a soundtrack using some material from 2 and 6 and I do not recommend it.  5, 7, 10 and 11 would offer a range wide enough for anyone willing to explore the band’s variegated approaches.

Published in: on August 13, 2008 at 8:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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