Flowers bloomed, raced and spun across the floors and walls with a digital gust of wind. The room spun, but didn't. Children ran, skipped and hopped to keep pace with the pixels. Adults — in altered states or just naturally dazed — sat still to keep from toppling over. There's a bar to watch the spectacle above, though alcohol seemed unwise.
Artechouse specializes in immersive installations built on multiple video projections and spatial audio. PIXELBLOOM is the latest exhibit, taking advantage of D.C.'s cherry blossom festival with a floral-forward program. It's Instagram-friendly, which I have nothing against, and visually stunning — a good space to zone out for one-hour timed entry.
But if I'm going to submerge my senses for an hour, I want the audio experience to match the overwhelming visual. The music was so inconspicuous and inconsequential that it didn't need to exist — literally an aural wallflower, which might as well have been generated by an algorithm (and likely was). I kept thinking about how harpist Mary Lattimore, synthesist Suzanne Ciani or (to support a local) cellist Janel Leppin could bridge the gap between ambient sound and visual narrative, however abstract. Or, you know, go full-on arena drone a la Boredoms, if ecstatic immersion is the goal. Felt like a missed opportunity, but hey, if Artechouse wants me to DJ a night of euphoric flora jams, hit me up! —Lars Gotrich
Zimoun, Guitar Studies I-III (Room40): Meticulously built guitar drone from the Swiss sound installation artist. There are no loops, only layers of prepared guitars played in real time, then played back through various devices and rooms to achieve a glistening, gliding and gauzy euphoria, drenched in distortion and feedback. The CD comes with a nice book and condensed versions, but digital allows for a three-hour bliss-out. Y'all should get both.
Dim Garden, A Dauntless Sprite Descends (Italo Moderni): If you squint (and you must!), here's another entry in "Broadcast as a genre," but from a bedroom raver's POV. There's a lot going on here — hairbrush-sung synth-pop, gloomy coldwave, creepy-crawly ambient, industrial techno — all delivered with a dead-eyed stare under a muffled blanket of cranked distortion. Perhaps the razor-edged electronic duo The Knife is a better point of reference, as Dim Garden seems energized by building demented pop form from noise. Not so much a psychedelic fantasia, but a clubber's cave lit by candlelight.
daddy's boy, GREAT NEWS! (self-released): daddy's boy has no shortage of targets on its AmRep'd scuzz: slumlords, superspreaders, vampiric corporations, dillweeds who gotta dunk on social media lest they fade away. And, hey, they are all deserving of our disdain, but I gotta say, it's the clarity in Jes Skolnik's voice that satisfies — their matter-of-factly rage rambles with equal parts despair and dark humor over hardcore punk that heaves with speedy menace: "I'm fun at parties! A real hoot!" they admit. GREAT NEWS! was recorded by Steve Albini; like his noise-rock band Big Black, there's an emphasis on captured fidelity, even and especially when that means a performance rubbed raw by a band barreling through 11 tracks with an under-rehearsed mania.
Delphine Dora, Hymnes Apophatiques (Morc): I've long admired the French musician Delphine Dora, but have never really known how to write about her avant-garde folksong steeped in ancient music and modern improvisation. Her closest contemporary might be someone like Josephine Foster. But this album, recorded during a Swiss church residency on an old pipe organ, offers a helpful peek into her process. Dora sings wordless devotionals over organ melodies that don't so much drone but wheeze and circulate the air around her; throughout, she plays with a giddiness so rarely lent to the instrument.
Negative Plane, The Pact (AJNA / Invictus): Let's be real: explicitly anti-Christian black metal is boring. And I don't just say that as a Christian myself who somewhat regularly engages with this music. Lyrically, the shocking imagery and cartoonish rage hasn't changed much over the last few decades. Blessings be, The Pact is mesmerizing. Across seven chapters and a cathedral-sized reverb so hideous that it gives me vertigo, Negative Plane has crafted a Faustian epic rich in character studies of humanity distressed and damned by church power. (The Pact is worth several pages of thematic examination, but y'all come here for blurb-length recommendations, so I'll point to this enlightening interview on Bardo Methodology.) Musically, the NYC weirdos remain steeped in second-wave black metal, demented prog, bizarro-world surf-rock and Celtic Frost-ian gothic melodrama, but present a King Diamond-worthy saga.
Albert Ayler, Revelations (Elemental Music): I wrote, at length for NPR Music, about how Revelations situates Albert Ayler the free-jazz saxophonist, the R&B party starter, the aspiring pop singer and the hymnist in the same context, under a geodesic dome in Southeastern France, just months before his death in 1970. For anyone who's had their souls reconfigured by his music, it's a vital document. I have a feeling this box set will continue to share lessons over time, but right now, I am most taken by the second set. (Unfortunately, only two tracks from the first set are available to stream right now.) The band leans into and plays against one another with a jubilant verve, but Call Cobbs' big band glitz — triumphantly trad chord voicings and outrageous runs up and down the piano — is such a delightfully perverse pairing to Ayler's overblown fanfares that I find myself grinning like an idiot throughout. Like I wrote in the review: "Ayler knew something we didn't."
Stream the Viking's Choice playlist via BNDCMPR. Tracklist below:
Dim Garden, "Cold and Stern"
Negative Plane, "Even the Devil Goes to Church"
Delphine Dora, "S'extraire de l'abîme"
daddy's boy, "brb fetching the guillotine"
Albert Ayler, "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe"
Zimoun, "Guitar Studies I"
Hether Fortune, "The Road Back"
Space Ghost, "Heaven Sent"
Cerrero y la marea (feat Lizeth Micolta), "Lamento"
The Lassie Foundation, "Crown of the Sea (Cave Sessions)"
Terry Riley, "Organum for Stefano - II"
Bloodmist, "Battle Mountain"
Katie Bejsiuk, "Onion Grass"
Golden City, "Big Country"
Life Without Buildings, "Let's Get Out (Live)"
Xcelerate, "Generational Debt"
Gaf & The Love Supreme Arkestra, "Fuego en el Cielo"
Rekah (feat. Stephania Shakira), "Mengajari Api Berdansa"
Silvia Tarozzi & Deborah Walker (feat. Coro delle Mondine di Bentivoglio), "La lega"
Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter, "Caddo Lake"
Hope For Agoldensummer, "Faded on the 14th"
Patty Waters, "Love is the Warmth of Togetherness"
Ralph E. White, "Lead Man"
CVE, "Thugs and Clips"
Camp Trash, "Let It Ride"
Half-handed Cloud, "Handles"
Golf Slang, "In Even Strokes"
JIVEBOMB, "Wise Choice"
David Nance, "Ham Sandwich"
Lord Vigo, "We Shall Overcome"