Your soundtrack to a bad trip
Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg have long been producing disorienting and downright upsetting music under the name of KTL since their inception in 2006. Rejecting almost all forms of song structure and conventions, their latest release, the VII EP, is beyond an exemplification of what contemporary experimental music can be. Quite literally a soundtrack to a nightmare and beyond, KTL capture all sensibilities of pure anxiety, dread and morbid curiosity, sounding almost like the long-lost score to a film that was never meant to be seen. This has been considered especially significant during this dark period in recent history as having most definitely contributed to the duo’s most refined and accomplished work—after almost 15 years of exploring and discovering their own sound.
“The Director,” an exhaustingly haunting opener, encapsulates to no end the sheer intensity found on the entire album, in part by detuned guitar swells stereo panned to each side—the left features slowly expanding guitar waves, and the right drones an alarmingly dissonant sawtooth synth. The devastatingly glacial and disorienting nature of the synths, however discordant, manages to be the main catalyst that propels and ascends the piece, reaching an obvious climax with distant echoes of monolithic existentialism and spatial tragedy alike found in György Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna.
Hitting closer to home with Stephen O’Malley and Sunn O)))’s aural turf on drone and experimental music, “Silver Lining” is guided by sonic assaults of distortion and low frequencies that are obviously sharper, brighter and more abrasive. In stark contrast to the previous track, “Silver Lining” also structures almost exclusively around somewhat dreamy and atmospheric waves of distorted drone guitar, harkening back to pioneers such as Dylan Carlson (Earth) on Earth 2 (1993), or even La Monte Young’s Trio for Strings (1958). Speckles of truly upsetting industrial and electronic noise paint a bleak yet ephemeral landscape on the side A conclusion interlude “Lee’s Garlic,” the shortest song on the record, clocking in at just over three minutes.
“Tea With Kali” provides a graceful lapse into a momentary bliss state, venturing further and further into developing electroacoustic territory, à la American composer Alvin Lucier. This obvious and prosperous Lucier imprint on the development of tape music and musique concrète can be found on O’Malley himself, being a devout instrumentalist in the Ever Present Orchestra, an ensemble for performing chamber pieces works composed by none other than Lucier himself. Nonetheless, this perpetual saturation of manipulated sound reaches a full atmospheric maturity in a shorter time span that expected, as the fourteen minutes never explode into a frenzy of dynamic acrobatics nor bridge from one section to another, favoring a more cultured and self-aware spatial approach.
The brief and fleeting moments of comfort and humanity are found in the beginning of the concluding piece, “Frostless,” where one might be able to pick out two or more voices and equipment fiddling, implying that the performance(s) may or may not have been recorded live in session, à la Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s masterpiece debut f#a#∞ (1997). Although this in no means takes away from the cerebral stimulation of the album, it allows the mind to ponder yet again how two people can make such massively compelling and intense drone music. The truly expansive vividness and lucidity of the concluding track leans towards more dark ambient (as if the rest of the album didn’t border on it already), and helps provide a solid, yet not comforting conclusion.
Overall, the resonating tectonics of VII remain a cumulative soundscape that radiates spontaneity, while also paying homage to the process of metamorphosis, and even deterioration, akin to William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops (2001), wherein the journey or aural degradation becomes the music itself. Yes, this album dooms. One can’t help but start to connect the dots to the 20th century worship hidden all over VII, with the aforementioned love for avant-garde composers such as Lucier and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as the dual meditative-harsh nature of mid 1970’s German krautrock and kosmiche-musik bands like CAN, Harmonia, Popol Vuh and Amon Duul II. VII will remain at the forefront of depressive atmosphere music for time to come by experimenting with brave sound concepts new and old.