Clinton Green Relativity/Only – Lately, my cat has been more anxious than usual. She runs around and gets into things more often when I’m not in the best moods, because I don’t have the energy to play and keep her from getting bored. To get her to chill out and stop going nuts at 3 AM, I’ve started putting videos of birds and squirrels on the TV so that she’s got something to focus on and feel like she’s hunting. She gets enraptured with this stuff and will watch it for hours, and it does its job at calming her down, but it’s had an unintended side effect—now I’m addicted to it too. I’m mostly amused by her amusement—it’s adorable when she swipes at the screen trying to grab a little critter or when her head whips in the direction that a bird flies off screen—but it’s also pretty good visual stimulus. We’ve watched all of the videos on the incredibly titled Birder King channel together, some multiple times; it’s officially a family bonding activity.
The cat, likewise, seems to enjoy some things that I’m into. It’s well known that cats mimic the habits of their owners when they’ve bonded, and she’s pretty much attached to me at the hip. She follows me from room to room, expects to be fed when I’m eating, and has a spot on the couch imprinted with her shape right next to the spot that’s shaped like me. My favorite thing, though, is that she gets enamored with the music I listen to when I play it from my laptop speakers. Relativity/Only is a recording of a kinetic sculpture at work, and the resulting sounds are strictly percussive—metal on metal, drums being struck, wooden objects being dragged across surfaces. She seems to especially find sounds like these fascinating; she’ll stand by my computer and stare, rub her face against the speakers, and circle around me trying to figure out the source of the sound. This is already one of my favorite types of music, but I’m particularly likely to play an album repeatedly if it gets a cute response from the kitty.
This album, probably due to its dynamic stereo panning that makes it sound like there’s something moving around the room, has gotten a response out of her more dramatic than anything else I’ve played. It’s one of my favorite musical experiences I’ve had this year because of how I’m uniquely able to share it with my cat. It gets me thinking about how personal experiences can elevate a piece of art, and sometimes those experiences can be so narrow that it’s hard to imagine it ever applying to someone else. Relativity/Only might not end up being your pet’s favorite album, but I now mine has good taste—she learned from the best. —Shy Thompson
THIS Ensemble “Brown Paper Business” – Melbourne’s Shame File Music has long been one of Australia’s most important experimental labels, both unearthing and reissuing the country’s long-forgotten noise, musique concrète and tape music from the 70s and 80s, as well as releasing new albums from some of Australia’s leading experimental acts. In January, the label put out one of their most ambitious releases to date: a wooden box, housing two CDrs, which contain a single, two-hour performance by the roving, malleable performance troupe known only as the THIS Ensemble.
The music here truly defies description, but let me try anyway. There’s plenty of spoken-word and tape loops, and instruments half-played or possibly just shuffled around the stage. On top of this, on the first track alone, I think I can make out maracas, a slide whistle, a dripping faucet, a balloon rubbing against a metal pipe, jangling keys, wind buffeting a microphone, a rice cooker, and two guitars. While much of the proceeding 110 minutes operates in the same register of shifting, unplaceable sounds, the ensemble do manage to cover a surprising amount of ground, sometimes veering into rock, jazz, noise, acousmatic drone, and trancelike percussion circles. Through all this, the spoken poetry, full of lopsided phrases and wordplay, and delivered in an absolute deadpan, both anchors the diffuse material and cuts through the air of monastic seriousness which typically attends a two-hour, avant-garde performance. At times, even the performers can be heard laughing at what they themselves are doing onstage.
In this way, THIS Ensemble embodies something I love about the Australian avant-garde underground: it is both ambitious and self-deprecating, not afraid to poke fun at its own extreme weirdness. Experimental music is weird! It can be pretty silly stuff. This isn’t to say that Australia doesn’t have its own share of stuffy, self-serious sculpteurs du son. At its best, however, the scene balances its adventurous inclinations with a flair for the comedic, giving audiences and performers alike permission to stop holding their breath. Brown Paper Business is a fantastic distillation of this ethos. At two hours, it can be a taxing listen, but its slowly shifting landscape and slyly circular structure reward a more-than-casual engagement. Brown Paper Business is huge, yes, and frequently very difficult music, but it is also one of the most fun experimental albums I’ve heard in a long while. Gird your loins, and take the plunge. —Mark Cutler