Review

George Zahora, Splendid E-Zine, July 25, 2002

This is one of the most disorienting and abrasive CDs I’ve ever heard.

That’s not an award I hand out lightly. I’ve heard more than my share of noiseartsoundsculpture stuff in the last few years, and while many memories of those listening sessions have been reduced to panic-stricken hindbrain rantings (“Ears Hurt. Brain Hurt. What Noise? Why Loud? Why Hurt? Must Run Away!,” etc.), I’d like to believe that I’m as capable of finding beauty in eardrum-bursting cacophony as anyone can reasonably be expected to be. But I don’t recall having heard any other “improvised computer music” that’s as disjointed, disassociate and relentlessly disquieting as the work of Érick d’Orion and Aimé Dontigny.

Imagine listening to three different CDs on three different portable CD players at the same time. Now imagine doing it while falling down an endless flight of stairs, the tracks cutting in and out, overlapping and merging as you tumble arse-over-tip. That’s cut-up, liberum arbitrium’s opener, and one of the disc’s most benevolent moments.

Looking for something a little more invigorating? Try multivisión espacial, a thirteen-minute epic that sounds like nothing so much as a welding torch fight in a jack-in-the-box factory. Or if you’d like something a little more immediate, try the jolting sonic jabs, needle-sharp noise bursts, overmodulated white noise and excessive reverb of spencer; listen carefully, and you’ll discover a catchy little rock rhythm in the depths of the mix… unless you have an aneurysm first.

If prime shake is a gentle lullaby sung by a solid steel whale to its aluminum and polycarbon children, métal scrap might be an auditory close-up of the sound your car’s engine makes when you don’t change the oil for 30,000 miles. But if you really want to up the ante, skip straight to the closer, digisex. What does it sound like? Imagine a backhoe pushing a combination kitchen garbage disposal/56K modem into a giant glass cistern full of razor blades and styrofoam packing peanuts — oh, and you’re watching and listening to it over a 28K video stream. Makes you want to run right out and buy the disc, doesn’t it?

The mad thing is, it actually might. If you’ve ever taken a whack at creating improvised processed-noise pieces on your home computer, you know that making them interesting — even making them painful for an extended period of time — takes some serious thought and real creativity. It’s one thing to turn the distortion and the reverb all the way up and leave the room for half an hour; it’s another matter entirely to sit there, in the eye of the storm, fine-tuning the wind and the rain and the lightning. Once you’ve made it through liberum arbitrium a few times, assuming you accomplish such a feat, you’ll develop a legitimate appreciation for d’Orion and Dontigny’s work; they rip sounds apart at an almost genetic level, scrunching them and tearing them and twisting them and hacking at them and carving them into little potato-peeler-curlicues with the ravenous relish of sonic serial killers.

Realistically, though, there aren’t many people who’ll buy a disc like this, and even fewer who’ll listen to it on a regular basis. This is one of those albums that defines one of the polar “ends” of your record collection. It can’t be listened to casually; simply withstanding it eats up far more mental CPU cycles than the average active listening experience. You can’t ignore it, and you certainly can’t tune it out.

I figure there are three types of people who’ll buy it:

  1. Academic, wire-rimmed-spectacle-wearing intellectual types who grew up on death metal and have spent their later years seeking out increasingly extreme thrills, attempting to trump other members of their social circle in the difficult listening stakes;
  2. People seeking sonic armament. For instance, I’d love to play digisex at 5:00 a.m., at very high volume, for the cocksucker with the weapons-grade subwoofer who drives past my house with his car stereo blaring at 3:00 a.m., or for the workmen at the town home development down the street who fire up their earth-moving equipment at 6:30 to get a head start on the day;
  3. Random buyers attracted by the cover art and Latin title.

Regardless of which category suits you, rest assured that you’ve never heard computers make noises like these before (no, not even when you tried to play the OS X install CD). There’s something so resolutely non-musical about liberum arbitrium — despite the brief, unrecognizable song snippets (i.e. the one at the beginning of digisex) that bleed through its pink-noise shell — that its most intractable moments will be like siren songs to those musical explorers who are driven to the polar extremes of sound. You can’t sing along to it, you sure as hell can’t dance to it — hell, you can barely think to it — but you need to hear an album like liberum arbitrium at least once in your life, if only to define your boundaries.

… they rip sounds apart at an almost genetic level, scrunching them and tearing them and twisting them and hacking at them with the ravenous relish of sonic serial killers.

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