At first, I wasn’t quite sure why the three deadpan improvisations that make up Excruciating Circumstances in the Kingdom of Ends, created by Montreal’s Chris Strickland held me in their eerie grip. The pieces, which match Strickland’s noise, sine tone and field recordings with Guido de Fabbro’s astringent violin and occasional plaintive flute from Solomiya Moroz, deploy a brutal simplicity in both technique and composition, in which things happen – scrunching tin foil, sine tone whine, violin scrape – and then they don’t. These flat soundscapes make a virtue out of limitation, their depthless lack of affect creating a sense of anxious emptiness. The resulting, near-desultory sonic landscape would seem designed to resist any kind of engagement yet, somewhat counterintuitively, it exerts a powerful gravitational force. In side A’s Excrutiating Circumstances, de Fabbro’s violin draws a caustic line across the early sections, like acid eating into metal. Its gradual shifts add spaced-out notes of creaking gothic melodrama, before moving into the higher register to match Strickland’s sine tones that emerge out of the space to fill long, unbroken sections. The implacable slowness recalls the ceaseless sweep of the camera eye, with the dusty murmur of field recordings in A Little White Space and Kingdom of Ends only adding to the unsettling feeling of viewing humanity through a glazed screen. Like Seth Cooke’s Sightseer, whose combination of shopping mall field recordings and contact mic scuff evoke the everyday banality on the verge of catastrophe, these pieces thrum with the dread of some horror lurking at the edge of our sight. Strickland and his collaborators convey both the pitiless gaze of CCTV, whose televisual eyes see everything but do nothing, and the medicated anomie of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, whose protagonists unleash atrocities that are somewhere between leisure activity, acts of privilege and yearning for self-erasure. In the end, it is the gap between surveillance and solipsism that creates the true horror.
We’re in slightly less bleak territory for In the Neck of Time, and not only thanks to its puntastic title. The single 10-minute piece was originally part of one of The Wire mag’s Under the Radar compilations and has been made available as a download-only release on the Notice Recordings Bandcamp. It’s a crunchier affair than Excrutiating Circumstances’… bleak reductionism, although it shares that album’s linear feel, Strickland laying down a succession of bumpy, gritty noises. Domestic science fans will glad to see the tinfoil making another appearance, accompanying a succession of rustling drones, courtesy of blurred field recordings and low-level speaker feedback. It’s good but rather serious-minded until about two-thirds of the way through when an avalanche of glitching digital static bursts through, its serrated gasps just caustic enough to waken those mesmerised by the grey lullaby.