Dominic Lash & Seth Cooke: Egregore

cooke-lash

Intonema CD and download

Clocking in at just under an hour, this third outing for Dominic Lash and Seth Cooke is a compelling example of collaborative, durational sound making. Its sinuous, morphing vibrations place it somewhere between Eliane Radigue’s ‘Adnos’ and Alvin Lucier’s ‘In Memoriam Jon Higgins’, nailing the introspective focus of the former and the pared back rigour of the latter, without descending into mushy consolation or arid emptiness.

While the curvilinear, unyielding lines of its unfolding horizon might tempted some to call this a drone record, there’s too much going on for that. That said, most of the activity takes place below the surface – well below, in fact. So much so that listening to ‘Egregore’ has to encompass both the micro and macro scales at the same time, zooming your brain and ears in on the eerie, particulate shifts that move things forward while also drawing back to acknowledge the peculiar wholeness of its sonic landscape.

Lash and Cooke have been an item since 2013, although, of course, they’re both permitted to see other people (the enticing cover art takes a visualisation of the pair’s various collaborations, as listed on Discogs, as its starting point). Their debut as a duo was the rather marvellous ‘PACT’, released on Gregory Büttner’s now-dormant 100füssler label in 2014. Key to the dirty, detailed joy of ‘PACT’ was Cooke’s baffling assemblage consisting of a domestic waste disposal unit and electronic gubbins, which produced a munching cacophony that Lash’s double-bass see-sawed across with giddy abandon. The resulting mutoid pugilism evoked images of a Plumbco Christmas bash that had degenerated into lairy shenanigans after someone spiked the punch.

‘PACT’ was fun, but it was with 2015’s ‘Canary’ that things took off. Lash was still on double bass, but Cooke had dumped the sink and replaced it with a really fucking weird setup involving a solitary cymbal resonated by handheld microphones. I saw the duo perform with this, and I’ve watched the video several times, and I still can’t figure it out. The cymbal lays on a table, then Cooke points his controller thingy at it and it makes a rather lovely whiny, sibilant hiss. I mean, it’s magic, basically. Or science.

Nevertheless, the results are fabulous, as if Cooke’s boiled down a cosmic Elvin Jones shimmer jam to its component molecules and is conducting them via some top-secret Zildjian Theremin hybrid. Deployed on ‘Canary’, Cooke’s conjurations summon a perpetual cresting wave, against which Lash throbs and thumps, sometimes crashing against the onward rush like a cruise liner caught in a mid-ocean storm, at others surfing the breakers with nonchalant ease.

While Cooke retains his enigmatic setup for ‘Egregore’, Lash switches to electronics, a decision which enables him to mirror his partner’s tinny pulsations with clean, protracted notes. Or is he producing a guttural, engine-like throb that growls away underneath Cooke’s UFO hum? It’s difficult to tell who’s doing what, to be honest. Better to just immerse yourself in its serpentine beams that snake out into space like twin lasers, occasionally seeming to entwine, at other times running in parallel.

What’s also hard to figure out is whether the subtle changes and modulations across ‘Egregore’ are microtonal shifts instituted by the players, or just effects generated by my brain. Certainly, tones seem to swim in and out of focus in almost trippy manifestations. At one point, the cymbal hiss seems to increase then decrease in volume, in classic rock drummer mystery-drama style. Elsewhere a fitful sine phases like some dismal alarm clock.

But Lash and Cooke’s steadfast refusal to build any kind of narrative arc means that ‘Egregore’ cannot be about anything but itself. The relentless exclusion of anything outside those metallic streams of sound prompts a kind of meditative engagement, yet the whining, irritating quality of the tones produced makes any kind of mindful contemplation impossible. And that’s fine by me. If I’d wanted a healing balm, I’d fire up my Headspace app. ‘Egregore’ annihilates aural complacency, its insistent force reducing all distractions to their component molecules like the heat-ray from a B-movie flying saucer. It is what it is. Ignore it at your peril.

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https://intonema.bandcamp.com/album/egregore

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