‘passive transport’ is an improvisational record record live in emilio gordoa’s rehearsal studio in berlin, in february 2015. along with gordoa and percussionist michael mcnab it features local composer/sound manipulator josten myburgh on freestyle electronics. what sort of record is it? i don’t know, really. it consists of two tracks, each a little over twenty-one minutes, and i guess once upon a time they would have been the two freely sprawling sides of a vinyl record. whatever it is it’s a complex, beautiful, occasionally confronting and totally singular listen.
the first thing that hits you when you dive into the first cut, ‘spike train’ is that this impromptu experimental trio have no interest in the lo-fi aesthetic that pervades much noise music (particularly stuff made on the fly). this is noise in all its high-def glory, almost hyperreal: the clarity, directness and intimacy of sound here is striking.
michael mcnab’s percussion and emilio gordoa’s vibraphone emerge with confident subtlety, while josten myburgh’s electronics take you quickly to the fringes of your audio awareness, throwing curveballs in the form of extremely high / quiet / disorienting sounds. these might not be sounds you thought you wanted to hear but now that you’re hearing them there’s a satisfyingly strangeness. like having a tortoise gnaw gently on your hand it’s vital in its disarming weirdness, not merely a case of novelty, but rather one of discovering (or re-discovering) dusty corners of your sensory perception and subsequent physical/emotional response.
the ensemble sound doesn’t seem to be mimetic in any sense; while countless experimental soundscapes will seem to allude to sounds in nature or imagined ambience from fantastical scenes, this feels very much like 3 artists sculpting and interrogating sound in and of itself. it’s raw and precise and attentive, never painterly.
to even begin to describe it, however, I find myself relying on mimetic comparisons: the rapid-fire flap of bees’ wings
the lonely rustle of a broom sweeping a farm shed
the groaning of a ship
the one-note song of a sword
a digital kettle boiling, a rusty robot gargling;
an 8-bit kookaburra, a hand saw, whales and bubble wrap
but none of these evocations are necessary to give the soundscape its interest. listening with headphones on it’s like a team of mad scientists are prodding the sound receptor neurons in my brain, running through a matrix of obscure permutations to see what’s possible for me to apprehend.
as the track enters its final passage, a new palette:
ice in the tumbler
track 2 is ‘myelin sheath.’ we find ourself in a similar band of the spectrum: mostly midrange and high-pitched tones, with a relative sparseness. glassy resonances, rattling ejaculations, stuttering synthetic pitch, typewriter chatter. there’s a droning density emerging though, which create a more atmospheric sensibility than we were granted on ‘spike train.’ yep, as the rainy rattles and layered frequencies unfurl there’s the possibility of slowing down and sinking in and that seems to be the fundamental difference in this track. the blood pressure drops and not even a wayward fuzz-bass stab is going to spit you out of the reverie. a 3-headed hypnotist is spinning coins on your nose and hissing sweet nothings in your ear. the vibraphone drones here are particularly consuming. ten minutes in, though, you begin to wonder what’s left in the piece’s trajectory – whether it hasn’t exhausted its useful options already.
that’s when things start to get ominously darker, like a storm cloud’s passed over the sun. stuttering rumbles and woody gurgles creep up from the corners. something grimly aeronautical. is this the music a black box would make? worried fidgeting, sedated beeps, a creepy stasis. weird loud clicks and i legitimately look around the room with goosebumps to see if someone’s snuck in. notes float above and below one another, aloof and unrelated, but acting towards a common affect: there’s a jazz-informed quiet cleverness there. and now loud digital growls, a monster in the machine, truly terrifying. skeleton clang.
it all ends with as little ceremony as it began, suggesting we’ve really heard neither a beginning nor an end, but merely peeked in upon a continuum. one of ever-mutating, sometimes blissful and sometimes harrowing sounds, astoundingly affecting in their abstraction. for these forty or so minutes of music to have emerged organically and spontaneously from the interactions of gordoa, mcnab and myburgh during one session in berlin is no mean feat, and we’re all the richer for their decision to give it an official release.